Landlords must not rush to enter an abandoned property
FOR any landlord, the abandonment of a property by a tenant is a major problem. Tenants may leave for a number of reasons but if they leave without notice or simply disappear, the results can be devastating. Yet, taking over an abandoned property can be fraught with legal and practical difficulties.
As soon as you are aware that a tenant has abandoned your property, there are a number of key points to be aware of. The tenant remains legally entitled to return and take up residence again. The landlord has a responsibility to safeguard any belongings left in the property by the tenant and may be liable for criminal prosecution if the property is re-let and the tenant then returns.
An abandoned property may also become a target for vandals and squatters.
Consequently, in the particular circumstances of extended holidays, hospital stays and prison sentences, a tenant retains the right to return to the property, and a landlord can face criminal penalties and civil damages for illegally evicting a tenant. So what should a landlord do? If you are using an agent to manage your property you need to check the following with them:
Do I have a legal right to reenter the property?
The tenant has obviously cleared out and left the property – can I begin marketing to re-let?
What do I do with any possessions left behind?
What happens if I re-let and the tenant returns?
There is only one guaranteed safe way to deal with an abandoned property and that is to get a court order for possession. This is especially advisable if the tenant’s possessions are still in the home.
At the very least, a landlord should obtain an agreement in writing from the tenant that they have abandoned their rights to the tenancy, preferable in the form of a notice to quit.
If a tenant has returned their keys, this is often regarded as a clear indication of the tenant’s intent.
If you are unable to contact the tenant, or you do not have any written confirmation, it is useful to consider these important points when assessing whether the property has been abandoned: Is rent still being paid? Have the keys been returned? Is there a relative to contact? Do the neighbours have knowledge?
Are there possessions left inside the property?
If the answer to the majority of these questions is no, or the property has been left in an insecure state, or you suspect internal appliances may present a danger, then, and only then, may you have a case for entering the premises.
If you do decide to enter the property, get a reliable independent witness to confirm the circumstances in writing eg a member of the clergy and leave a clear notice on the door informing the tenant who to contact for access, particularly where the locks have been changed.
The most effective way to avoid problems is to keep in regular contact with your tenants.
If you are using a good agent, they will value the clienttenant relationship and will communicate regularly with both landlord and tenant. In almost all circumstances, it is important that the original tenancy application is handled correctly and to have the tenancy agreement drawn up by an agent. There should always be sufficient information to contact the tenant, a friend or relative.
The tenant’s references and identification must be thoroughly checked prior to them moving into your property.
In the unfortunate event of abandonment, and if in any doubt at all as to how to proceed, then you should take immediate advice from both your letting agent and solicitor.