23rd June 2018
Q: I gave my tenant notice and have yet to start court proceedings, however, I think they have left the property. What should I do?
A: When this type of situation occurs, it can sometimes be called abandonment. But, this is normally the case if they do this without notice, before a tenancy comes to an end. In your situation you have served a Section 21 for them to leave, and they have saved you a lengthy process through the courts.
What is more commonly known as abandonment of tenancy, is where a tenant has “done a runner”. Often, you will not know the property is vacant until rent payments stop, and if no regular checks are carried out on the property, several weeks can go by before you know this has happened.
Your insurance policies usually request you to inform the insurers if a property is vacant for more than two to three weeks, so insurance cover could be compromised when the property is abandoned.
When tenants leave like this, they often leave possessions behind, even pets in some cases! They may post the keys through the letter box, take the keys with them, or even give them to someone else.
When tenants’ possessions are left behind, you owe a legal duty of care to the tenant to protect them. This is the case even though the tenant may be in rent arrears or has damaged your property. But what is more of a pain for the landlord is that if the tenants have left possessions this shows that the tenant may come back at some point, which means the landlord must take extra care not to breach the Protection from Eviction Act: “It‘s a criminal offence to unlawfully deprive a residential tenant of his or her occupation of the premises, or attempt to do so.” Basically, a landlord cannot stop a tenant from entering a property without first obtaining a surrender of the tenancy, or gaining consent from the courts via a Possession Order.
In either case, first of all you should be sure that the property has definitely been abandoned. So, keep a watch on the property for signs of abandonment, for example, unopened mail piling up behind the door, bins not emptied, drawn curtains, empty parking spaces etc. Better still, it is a good idea to talk with the neighbors. Once you are sure the tenant has left you should cautiously enter the premises with spare keys (after having dropped a letter through their door giving notice that you will be coming in).
Have a witness like an agent or friend with you, and be prepared to find the premises occupied. If that is the case you would need to make your excuses and leave fairly quickly – tenants should understand if you state your concern for their safety.
If you change the locks you must inform the tenants of this despite how bad your tenant was.
If you are experiencing something like this, give me a call and I’ll happily offer you some free advice.