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What to Do if a Tenant Has Abandoned a Property

It goes without saying, but to the surprise of many new tenants, simply leaving an abandoned property without notifying the landlord of your intentions to do so does not absolve the legal obligations implemented through the tenancy agreement.  Simply put, regardless of how far any rouge tenants may get from the rental property, they are still considered the legal occupants and are therefore required to uphold their agreement to make consistent rental payments to the landlord. As can be expected this can have serious repercussions for the landlord, with the lengthy periods of missing rent only working to leave them increasingly out of pocket. Not only that, but alongside the financial repercussions of a tenant abandoning a rental property, landlords must also be aware of specific legalities that prevent them from illegally re-letting or entering the property.

What Is Considered Abandoning a Property?

Simply put, a tenant is considered to have abandoned a property if they have left the accommodation for an extended period of time without first notifying the landlord.

The most common reason for tenants to simply vacate a rental property is because of any rental arrears they may have accumulated. Naturally, if a tenant believes that their financial situation is only worsening then it may cross their mind as a viable solution to repaying any owned amounts. However, without enacting the correct procedure when trying to end a fixed term early the legally binding tenancy agreement is still in place, meaning the tenant will still be liable for any expected rental payments, only increasing the amount of arrears they owe to the landlord.

Whilst tenants do of course leave tenancies early under less unfortunate circumstance, these instance will see a break clause be enacted, or a mutual agreement reach between both parties.  With this being said, it is not completely unheard of for tenants that have found rental accommodation in another area, had to relocate because of new employment prospects, or left thanks to other demands of their individual circumstance to simply pack up shop and cancel their rental payments without telling the landlord.

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How Long Can a Tenant Leave a Property Empty?

Many tenancy agreements stipulate that if a tenant plans to leave a rental property for more than two weeks, they must provide the landlord with notice. If the tenant neglects to inform the landlord that they are returning to the property, or that they have even left to begin with, the owner of the rental will rightfully completely unaware of if the property has been abandoned and if so, for how long?

If the landlord is unaware that the property is currently unoccupied the repercussions can be severe.  Unfortunately, if there is no tenant in the building then the landlord will not be receiving any of the agreed upon rental payments, potentially leaving them to cover the costs of buy to let mortgage payments, any necessary remedial work on their properties and other management costs out of a quickly thinning wallet. Not only this but many landlord insurance providers will demand that a higher rate is paid if the rental property is vacant for extended periods.

Whilst many in the rental industry deem these regulations to be somewhat heavy handed on landlords, given the uncertainty of the situation, it is essential for landlords to tread carefully when dealing with a tenant that has potentially abandoned the rental property.

Checking if the Property Is Abandoned

If a landlord suspects that one of their rental properties has been abandoned, their first port of call should be to try and re-establish contact with the occupants of the property. There can be many reasons that a tenant may not be in a rental property with many of them appearing to be abandonment on face value. Perhaps the tenant is in hospital, visiting family, or is coincidentally out when the landlord has gone to visit, regardless it is essential that the landlord confirms that the property is indeed abandoned before proceeding any further and trying to reclaim possession of the rental.

If the landlord is able to gain written documentation of the tenant confirming that they are relinquishing the possession of the property back to the landlord then the tenancy agreement can be brought to an end, and the keys to the rental returned to the property owner. If however, despite numerous attempts the landlord is unable to establish any contact with the tenant the landlord is able to scrutinise the matter further.

Despite a lack of contact from the tenant the landlord must be able to find reasonable grounds to believe that the rental has been vacated.  Naturally most landlords will notice that the tenants may have left the property after they begin to miss rental payments, of course this isn’t immediately indicative of the larger issue of abandonment, but is a tell-tale sign none the less.  Additionally if the landlord is able to see that the tenant’s belongings have been removed from the rental, alongside the keys being disregarded at the property too, the landlord will be safe to determine the tenancy has been abandoned. The landlord may also find it useful to communicate with the tenant’s neighbours. As can be expected they will have been one of the most likely to see the tenants vacate the property and may be aware of their location and how to reach them. Additionally, this information can be used by the landlord if they seek to pursue a possession order through the courts and should therefore be recorded and documented.

Can a Landlord Enter an Abandoned Property?

Whilst this can be seen by many frustrated landlords as somewhat counter intuitive, despite the property being abandoned, as mentioned the legally binding tenancy agreement is still in place. Unfortunately, this means that all of the rights the tenant is entitled to are still upheld, even if their responsibilities and obligations are being neglected. To this end the occupants of the rental property sill have their right to “quiet enjoyment” of the rental property upheld, preventing the landlord from simply accessing the rental property whenever they wish. However, the landlord is still able to access the rental property if they believe that there is an emergency situation currently taking place within the accommodation.  This means that if the landlord suspects that the condition of the property is in a detrimental condition, there is a fire or excessive flooding, the gas and electrical appliances are unsafe to use, or that violent or antisocial behaviour is taking place, they are able to enter the rental property.

With these tenant rights in mind, in the circumstance that the occupants of the rental have decided to leave any of their possessions behind when vacating the property, it is still the landlord’s obligation to safeguard these items for the duration of the rental period. If the landlord was to sell any of the tenant’s possessions, or otherwise illegitimately dispose of them this would be treated as a civil offence, allowing the tenant to pursue compensation.

It is also essential to remind landlord that they cannot act as their own bailiffs, seizing any of the tenant’s possessions for sale to settle any missing rental payments. If the landlord wishes to dispose of the tenants goods as they show no signs of collecting their belongings, the landlord can attempt to serve the tenant with a notice to collect their possessions. It is worth noting that the landlords are able to sell some of the possessions to cover any costs associated with storing these possessions.

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Repossessing the Rental Property

A landlord is able to take back possession of their rental property providing that the tenant that has abandoned the property has also accumulated significant rental arrears. Under this circumstance a landlord would be able to employ the Housing and Planning Act 2016, allowing them to reclaim the property without first gaining a court order. To claim possession the landlord must first give the tenant an initial notice, providing them with an eight week period in which to settle the rental arrears. If following this there is still no contact from the tenant the landlord must issue a second notice, again reminding the occupant to pay the outstanding amount. Five days before the initial eight week notice is due to expire the landlord must issue the tenant with a final notice; if the tenant still neglects to pay the landlord then the tenancy is considered terminated and the landlord regains possession of the property.

Issuing an Abandonment Notice

If a landlord suspects that a tenant may have abandoned one of their rental properties then a notice of abandonment must be issued. It is essential that this notice is clearly displayed on the exterior of the rental property, informing the tenant that the property has been considered vacated and that in the interest of security the locks have been changed. The notice should also remind the tenant of where they can go to contact the appropriate party to gain the keys to the property and any belongings that may be in storage.  The notice should also clearly detail a deadline by which if the tenant has not returned or established contact the tenancy will be considered abandoned.

Recovering Missing Rent

Whilst it is worth noting that this would be far from an immediate resolve, providing that the residents have not abandoned the rental property near the close of the rental period, a landlord is able to recoup any missing rental payments through the tenancy deposit.  However, the amount taken by the landlord for the tenancy deposit can only be accessed once the agreed upon tenancy period is over, meaning that landlords may wish to pursue another means of pursuing the debt if their rental period is still in its infancy.

To the further dismay of renal property owners, reclaiming any owed rental payments through the tenant’s security deposit may prove to recoup an insufficient amount, particularly if the occupants have accumulated a substantial amount in rental arrears. With this being said it is far from a fruitless endeavour as the landlord is still able to claim multiple weeks’ worth of rent through this method. It goes without saying that this is of course dependant on the amount landlords take when requesting a security deposit from their tenants, and if they even took a deposit to begin with.

The Tenant Fees Act 2019 firmly established a limit on the amount a landlord can take from a tenant for a tenancy deposit. Whilst the regulations work to more broadly protect tenants from excessively high fees when first moving into a rental property, the act places a cap on the available deposit amount dependent on how much tenants pay in rent.  If the amount the landlord charges the occupants of the rental property each year in rent is lower than £50,000 then the amount taken for the tenancy deposit can be no larger than the equivalent cost of five weeks rent. If however, the owner of the rental property charges over this threshold in annual rent, the maximum amount they are able to request from a tenant for the deposit is raised to the cost of six weeks rent.

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