Tenant abandonment

Abandonment is when a tenant leaves the property before the tenancy has ended, usually without letting the landlord know. If the tenant surrenders the property by abandonment, the landlord has to be sure that they've left before renting out the property to somebody else.

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If a tenant chooses to leave a property for more than two weeks, they must tell their landlord. This is usually stated in their tenancy agreement, so the tenant would be breaking the terms of their tenancy if they failed to inform the landlord they were leaving.

A tenant will still owe rent until the tenancy is ended correctly or when the landlord re-lets the property. A landlord could deduct money from the tenant’s deposit or apply for a court order to claim what is owed.

What are the landlord's obligations?

The landlord must be sure that the tenant has surrendered the tenancy by abandonment before letting the property to somebody else or changing the locks. The best way to do this is by contacting the tenant to ensure they are abandoning the property. Returning the keys is a clear indication from the tenant that they are agreeing to surrender the tenancy.

The law surrounding taking possession after abandonment has changed with the introduction of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. Once the landlord is certain that the tenant has left the property, under the new law they can now seek possession without a court order.

The landlord can repossess an abandoned property where rent is unpaid. The amount of rent arrears that allows a landlord to take possession depends on the frequency of rent payments outlined in the tenancy agreement. For example, notice can be given after rent is two consecutive months’ in arrears if rent is paid monthly. The landlord can then bring the tenancy to an end by adhering to the following procedure:

  • Serve a First warning notice that requests the tenant, occupier or deposit-payer to respond and pay rent within 8 weeks.
  • Serve a Second warning notice if there is no response.
  • Finally, if the tenant still hasn’t responded, a Third warning notice must be placed on a noticeable part of the property. This must be served at least 5 days before the end of the initial 8 week period outlined in the First notice.

If the tenant responds to any of the notices or makes rent repayments then the abandonment procedure ends.

The new procedure provides a more streamlined and cost effective method for landlords who have their tenants abandon their property. Prior to the law change, the landlord would have to issue a Section 8 possession notice to lawfully evict the tenant on the basis of non payment of rent. This lengthy process could potentially leave the landlord without many months’ worth of rent.

The procedure outlined above should only be used if the landlord is sure that the tenant has abandoned the property.

If the landlord is unsure as to whether the tenant is living in the property or not, it is best to end the tenancy by issuing a Section 21 (Form 6A) notice in England or a Section 21 notice for Wales, rather than run the risk of unlawful eviction proceedings (especially if the tenant has left their belongings or furniture in the property). If the landlord has re-let or repossessed the property, they also run the risk of being charged with breaching the terms of the tenancy agreement.

The landlord must make the necessary checks to confirm that the tenant has abandoned the tenancy. It could be that the tenant is on a long holiday, in hospital or undergoing a short prison sentence. To gain evidence as to whether or not abandonment has occurred, the landlord can make enquiries by:

  • Speaking to the neighbours;
  • Checking to see whether the keys have been returned;
  • Finding out if the rent is still being paid;
  • Contacting a relative for information on the tenant's whereabouts; or
  • Finding out if belongings or furniture have been removed from the property.

When can you enter an abandoned property?

If, after trying to gather information on the tenant's whereabouts, it appears that the property has been abandoned, then the landlord can only enter the property under certain circumstances:

  • The property is in an insecure condition; or
  • Electrical or gas appliances could cause damage or danger to the property.

In these circumstances, the landlord should invite an independent witness to confirm the condition of the property and the situation in writing. The landlord must also place a notice on the door of the property if the locks have been changed, advising the tenant where they can contact the landlord to get the new key to the property. This is called an “abandonment notice.”

What should an abandonment notice include?

The abandonment notice should include the following information:

  • A statement from the landlord of the belief that the property has been abandoned (plus dates).
  • The landlord’s full name and contact details.
  • The tenant’s name and the address of the property.
  • A statement asking any persons who know of the tenant or the tenant’s whereabouts to inform the landlord.
  • A date whereby if the tenant has not made contact with the landlord, then it will be presumed that the tenancy has been surrendered.
  • A statement that recommends that the tenant seek advice in relation to their tenancy.
  • If the landlord puts up the notice with a witness present, the witness's name.

A landlord may wish to take photographs of the notice as proof that they have informed the tenant of their intention to regain possession of the property. Notices must be served either in person or left in an obvious place at the property.

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