If your tenant leaves the property before the end of the tenancy, no longer pays rent, and leaves without notifying you, then you may be a victim of tenant abandonment. However, because the tenant is still the legal occupant, you as the landlord have extremely limited rights.
The landlord cannot end the tenancy without constituting an illegal eviction. They also cannot legally enter without receiving access permission from the tenant, albeit in circumstances that are emergencies such as a fire, or gas, or water leak.
This is because the tenant still has a right to privacy and “quiet enjoyment”. You would need to give 24 hours notice of entering as usual and have confirmation from the tenant.
This can be a daunting time for landlords as unoccupied properties have higher insurance properties and are more vulnerable to crime and squatters. Realisitically, you want to get the property back in your hands and re-let on the market asap.
How do I reclaim my property?
Because you cannot just look at the property and claim it to be abandoned, you must initially contact the tenant and ask for written confirmation that they return the property to you and return the keys (if they have not left them at the property).
If you cannot reach the tenant, you will need proof of the abandonment of the property. You can only proceed if the tenant is in arrears, but other clues of abandonment are the keys being left behind and/or the removal of possessions. An abandonment notice must then be posted, in a prominent position inside the property. It must state that the landlord aims to take possession back, and how to contact them in the event of the tenant’s return.
The next step would be to change the locks. To avoid an illegal eviction, you must create another notice stating that you have done so and how the tenant can contact you. Remember to date it and photograph its location in a place visible from the outside. For example, inside a front window facing out. If the tenant ignores this, you must issue a third and final notice. If ignored, this allows you to take possession of the property once again under the conditions outlined in the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
What do I do with the possessions?
You must also legally keep any possessions safe until the tenant collects them. You will be responsible for any damage to them. Tenants will able to bring a claim against you for this (or for selling them). The only legal way for you to keep hold of possessions is via a possession order. This would then enable bailiffs to seize goods. If your tenant has left possessions that you want to get rid of, you must:
- Issue a notice stating the need for collection and one stating the intention to sell goods, with a notice period. You should either sent to the tenant or put in a window as per the other notices.
- Try to get proof from the tenant that they did abandon the belongings. Keep evidence of this contact for future reference.
- Collect proof that it would be reasonable of you to dispose of the belongings. For example, if they left rubbish, food, or they were of low value. Treat it like an end of tenancy inventory by taking photos and making notes. Also accompany this with the proof of attempts to contact the tenant.
- Remember: the belongings of a tenant in arrears must be kept for at least 3 months before a landlord can issue a notice.
This can be an incredibly stressful time, especially as you will be without income. However, it is important that you do everything by the book to avoid any claims of illegal eviction which can result in court cases and fines against you. It may be a long process but it will protect you against any civil action.