Tenants abandoning residential premises

Abandonment is when an individual voluntarily gives up their legal rights such as interest in their land or property, a tenancy.

According to Section 5(2) of the Housing Act 1988, tenancies may only be terminated by a court order which may be sought by the landlord to obtain possession of their property. Alternatively, a tenant is able to surrender their legal rights through a similar process. However, if a tenant abandons the landlord’s residential investment property, the landlord may be placed in a difficult position as the correct procedure has not been used to terminate the contract. In this situation, the tenant may accuse the landlord of unlawful eviction.

This is confused further as a common problem is the tenants leaving their dwelling house for a long time without occupation. This could breach the insurance taken out by the landlord and increase the price of the insurance due to the risk of an empty residence.

The landlord may have several options in the situation where a tenant disappears and rent is no longer paid. Firstly, it is difficult to spot the problem as from the outside of the property; it is hard to tell if the property is vacant. The tenant may have left their possessions behind in the property which the courts may consider is an intention by the tenant to return and thus treat the tenancy as continuing. However, if a landlord decides that the tenant is not returning and attempts to let out the property again, and the tenant subsequently returns, the landlord is able to be sued.

Sometimes, landlords fake abandonment by the tenant deliberately to pressurise the court to grant an unlawful eviction. According to Section 1(2) of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, this is an offence where it is unlawfully attempted to deprive an occupier of any part of a premises. The best option for the landlord in this case is to ask the court for a possession order.

However, if the landlord does not want to ask the court for a possession order, then an alternative option is to ask the tenant directly to surrender their tenancy. This is done by sending the tenant a letter in writing to expressing their interest to surrender the tenancy and the tenant gives up the keys to the property.

A final option is for the landlord to take possession of the property, though this option is the least favoured. A number of factors should be taken into account which may indicate abandonment by the tenant of the property. These factors include for example that the property has been abandoned and left in a bad state by the tenant, or they could cause a danger to neighbours. If these circumstances are present, the landlord could enter the property and fit a new lock.

For a landlord to do this, they should give a notice to the tenant informing them that the lock has been changed but not deprive the tenant of any of their rights to access the property. This is advantageous as a landlord can enter the property and reclaim possession quickly. However, landlords should be aware this is risky and seek legal advice first.

Although abandonment by tenants is common, landlords should approach the situation with caution and exercise their option with protection from the courts and legal advice to avoid situations which could be detrimental to them.

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May 20, 2012