What are your landlord’s rights if a tenant walks out?
If a tenant abandons your buy-to-let property, you could have a nightmare to deal with. Even if the tenant is in the wrong, they still have rights that could conflict with what you believe your landlord’s rights should be. You can’t simply repossess the property and get new tenants. The tenant could return at any time to take up residency, even if they haven’t been paying rent.
In this article, we examine your landlord’s rights when a tenant abandons your property.
What is an abandonment of a buy-to-let property?
In legal terms, abandonment is when a tenant leaves a property voluntarily and for good. They give up the right to live there again. The problem for you is, how can you be certain the tenant has abandoned the property? If you are not certain, you are taking a lot of risks if you repossess the property.
Why do tenants abandon a property?
The most common reason for a tenant to abandon a property is that they are behind with the rent. They don’t want to pay – or perhaps they can’t pay – and ‘do a runner’.
However, there are other reasons your property may appear abandoned. They may have taken an extended holiday, or been relocated temporarily for work. Usually, the tenancy agreement will state that the tenant must let you know if they intend to be away for more than two weeks. If they don’t, they are in breach of contract.
“Ah-ha!” I hear you say. “Breach of contract is a cause to evict a nightmare tenant. And leaving a property empty can be a big nightmare.” Yes, this is true but the law on abandonment isn’t quite so simple. Your tenant is protected under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
If you think your property has been abandoned, you need to act quickly
An abandoned property makes things very difficult for a landlord. For example:
- Vandals and thieves target empty properties
- An empty property is susceptible to squatters – and that’s a can of worms you don’t want to open
- Your landlord insurance could be voided – most insurers state that a property must not be unoccupied for more than two weeks
Here’s the quandary:
- If a tenant appears to have abandoned your property part way through their tenancy, they still have the right to return.
- You have the obligation to safeguard any belongings left behind.
- If you re-let the property you could be in breach of the tenancy agreement, and, in the worst-case scenario, be deemed to have committed a criminal offence.
Even if the rent isn’t being paid, your tenant still has a right to return!
What can you do if you suspect the tenant has abandoned your property?
Misguided landlords believe they have the right to enter their property, change the locks, sell the tenant’s belongings (and keep the proceeds), and re-let the property. You cannot do any of these things simply. There is a course of action which must be followed:
- Get legal guidance – you may need to initiate a court possession order.
- Contact the tenant and ask if they have abandoned the property.
- Confirm in writing that this is the case. Ask the tenant to put their property abandonment in writing, too.
- Take possession of the keys – this is an essential requirement, as it proves the tenant’s intention.
What if you can’t contact the tenant?
If you can’t contact the tenant, you may need to use a tracing agent to track them down. If they still can’t be found, consider if the property has been abandoned. Ask the neighbours if they know anything. Look through the windows to see signs that the tenant expects to return. Most importantly, is the rent still being paid?
Only if you are sure that the property has been abandoned, or there is a possibility that there may be a danger to the property and its neighbours (for example, from kitchen appliances) could you have grounds for entering the property?
If you need to enter the property in these circumstances:
- Take an independent witness with you.
- Leave an abandonment notice. It tells the tenant that the lock has been changed, and if they need access, they need to contact you.
- Inform the local authority rent officer of what actions you are taking.
This course of action is quicker than a possession order, but you should always take legal advice. If you are not sure that the tenant has abandoned your property, take legal advice and get a court possession order.
Never enter a property without permission or legal grounds, unless…
You cannot enter a tenanted property without permission or legal grounds like those we’ve discussed above. However, there may be a time when you are forced to do just that. It happened to one of our property managers a few months ago.
A property was let to an elderly gentleman. Every couple of days, the tenant would phone his manager, just to say ‘Hi’. Some tenants are like that. Then, for a few days, the manager didn’t hear from him. Concerned, our property manager got in his car to pay the property a visit.
All was quiet. Perhaps the tenant had gone on holiday? The manager asked neighbours if they had seen the tenant, and no one had for a few days. Looking through the front window, nothing seemed amiss. He walked to the rear of the property and looked through the kitchen window. Nothing.
Then he saw the tenant’s legs, sticking out of the pantry door. It turned out the tenant had collapsed, and couldn’t get up. After a few weeks in the hospital, the tenant made a full recovery.
The moral of this story is that if you believe your property may have been abandoned, always go and look through the windows. You may just save your tenant’s life.
Contact Ezytrac today on +44 1522 503 717 and discover the difference dedicated investment property management could make to your property portfolio.
Yours in effortless property management,