What to Do When Your Tenant Disappears
This article explains what to do when your tenant disappears and how to leverage a tenant tracing agencies service with some handy advice for Landlords in the UK. Being a landlord can be a difficult position; you have responsibilities to ensure the property remains in good condition for your tenants, while still respecting their privacy.
There are laws to protect the rights of tenants so this means that you might not instantly notice something is awry. You may only become aware of the fact that your tenant has disappeared when the rental payment isn’t made and you need to get in touch.
But what can you do if you suspect your tenant has disappeared – what are your rights as a landlord?
You can’t just re-enter the property as there are strict procedures you must legally follow.
This guide explains the steps you need to take, and what your options are.
Defining Tenant Abandonment
The legal term for a tenant disappearing is “tenant abandonment”. This means that the tenant has voluntarily given up their legal possession of the property, enabling the landlord to reclaim possession.
However, determining whether tenant abandonment isn’t as easy as it sounds due to the rights that tenants have under the Protection from Eviction Act.
It’s normal to have a clause in the tenancy agreement which stipulates that a landlord must be notified if the tenant expects to be away for longer than two weeks. The problem is that there may be emergency circumstances that arise which make this impossible, such as sudden hospitalization.
For this reason, a landlord is unable to just assume the property has been abandoned, even if the tenant initially appears to have disappeared. The law prevents the landlord from just re-claiming possession and unless there is an emergency reason, the landlord is not allowed to even enter the property.
It is important that a landlord is able to swiftly determine whether a tenant has disappeared, to enable legal action, and a possession order to be sought. If a property is left unoccupied for too long, it may become a target for squatters which can be even more problematic so rapid action is recommended.
This article explains the legal issues around tenant abandonment
Tenant Abandonment Checks
In the first instance of suspected abandonment, the landlord should attempt to contact the tenant. They should be asked for confirmation that the possession of the property is being returned to the landlord. They should also be asked to return their keys. Once the landlord receives written confirmation that the tenant is returning possession, it is legal for the landlord to re-enter the property right away.
If the landlord gets no response from the tenant after several attempts, it may be possible to assume the property has been abandoned. To do this, the rent must be overdue, and there are other clear indicators such as:
- The keys have been left
- The tenant has removed their possessions
It may be difficult to ascertain these facts without entering the property, but neighbors may be able to provide confirmation. Finding out when the tenant was last seen and whether they removed their property and getting witness statements confirming these facts could be a strong factor in an application for a possession order.
It is also reasonable to use any next of kin or emergency contact details held for the tenant. Before setting up a tenancy agreement, there should always be proper tenant checks and emergency contact details obtained.
How to Regain Possession of a Property
Once a landlord has strong grounds to believe that the tenant has disappeared and the property abandoned, a court possession order can be sought. If granted, the possession order provides the landlord with the legal rights to re-enter the property and let it out to a new tenant.
Before the possession order can be granted, the landlord will need to issue either a section 8 or section 21 notice. If the abandonment is clear, the section 8 notice is more relevant. A section 8 notice is used for cases of eviction where the tenant is being removed for legal reasons, such as breaking the tenancy agreement.
A section 21 notice may be more suitable if there is no strong evidence that the property has been abandoned. This is because no reasons need to be included with a section 21 notice, thereby preventing later claims of unlawful eviction.
There are certain conditions that need to be fulfilled to issue section 21 notices. The tenant must be given a two-month notice period before you can apply to the court for the possession order. You also cannot use a section 21 notice within the first four months of a tenancy agreement.
The landlord is allowed to enter the property without a possession order in certain emergency situations, namely:
- Fire or flood from inside the property
- Electrical or gas appliances are causing a danger
- Urgent attention is required for structural damage
- The property has been left in an insecure state
- Violence or crime is taking place inside the property
A landlord should always take a witness if entering the property without a possession order, and ensure the event is recorded fully in writing.
Goods Left Behind by a Tenant
Once the landlord is able to access the property, it may become evident that the tenant has left behind their possessions. If the tenant has disappeared owing rent, it could be tempting to sell their possessions to offset against the amount owed but this is not permitted by law.
The landlord has a responsibility to take care of their tenant’s possessions until they are either returned to the individual or maybe legally disposed of. The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 means that the landlord must take reasonable steps to return the items to the tenant, and must ensure they are not damaged while being stored.
If the landlord is unable to get confirmation from the tenant that the goods have been abandoned, they would generally need to be kept for three months. This may cause considerable expense and inconvenience to the landlord, so it may be preferable to trace the tenant instead. Professional tracing agencies such as Find UK People can trace tenants in just 24 hours allowing the matter to be resolved quickly. With a 98% success rate and costs of just £45, it’s an affordable option that prevents unnecessary expenses.
Occasionally, tenants may abscond with possessions that belong to the landlord. If this is the case, tracing the tenant will be even more important so legal proceedings can commence for theft
It’s advisable to include the process for dealing with abandoned goods in the tenancy agreement; this provides the landlord with a much clearer path in the event of the tenant disappearing. However, the terms of the tenancy agreement must still be reasonable and not breach the tenant’s rights under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999.
Once a tenant is traced to a current address, you may be able to get confirmation from them that the goods can be disposed of. This is all you need to be able to take lawful action to get rid of abandoned goods. However, it is still advisable to take photographs and an inventory of everything that you are disposing of, just in case of a future dispute.
Get Professional Tenancy Support
A tenant abandoning a property is frustrating and can cause a lot of extra hassle for the landlord. Here at Find UK People, we can help with all aspects of tenancies, from carrying out the initial checks (including financial background checks) to tracing the current address of any tenants who disappear.
To find out more about our tenant tracing services, get in touch with our ex-tenant tracing team today.