Tenant Abandonment
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Tenant Abandonment

With the increase in rents and the cost of living outstripping many incomes; there are more and more tenants defaulting on their rent payments and some, not all, choose to just leave rather than try and deal with the matter.

According to legal information provider Sweet & Maxwell, tenant evictions for landlord repossession have risen to 36,177 for the year to the end of June 2013, up from 33,199 in the 2011/12 via The Telegraph.

Tenant Abandonment is when a tenant leaves the property before the term of tenancy has ended and is a major problem for many landlords.

Lets be clear; whatever your thoughts and feeling are on the matter, the tenant still retains a legal tenancy and has the right to return and demand to take up residence at any time, even if they have defaulted on their rental payments!

To be able to take back an abandoned property is a difficult process and remains a grey area in regards to the legalities so landlords need to exercise a great deal of caution and ALWAYS take proper legal advice before taking any action!

So what do landlords need to be aware of?

Under Section 1 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, it is a criminal offence to unlawfully evict a residential occupier from rental premises without first obtaining one of the following:
voluntary surrender by the tenant - in writing is preferable, but there are circumstances where the surrender of keys is sufficient an eviction date obtained via a warrant of possession that had been lawfully obtained by due process.

There are some difficult decisions to make whether you are a landlord or the letting agent and the very first questions that need to be explored are:

1. What legal right has the landlord or agent got to re-enter the property?

2. If it is very obvious that the tenant has left for good, can the property be re-let?

3. What should happen to any of the tenant’s possessions which may have been left behind?

4. What would be the consequences if the property is re-let and the tenant returns?

The tenant could bring a civil claim for damages against the landlord, so it is worthwhile getting it right so that you don't end up with an even bigger bill.

Shoesmiths Access Legal Guide to abandonment suggest that the landlord / letting agent should:

Speak to the referees.

At the outset of the tenancy, references would have been taken. Speak to all those who provided them to find out if they are aware of the tenant's whereabouts. Are they still at their place of employment? Take notes of the time, date, and person you spoke to. Remember: you are laying a paper trail for use at a later date, if required.

Speak to the utility companies.

You may find that they are unwilling to give you any information, but if you style your questions correctly, you may be able to find out enough to help you make your decision. For instance, try just asking 'Yes' or 'No' questions, such as: "Is this person still registered as being responsible for the electric/gas/council tax at this property?" Again, take notes for your paper trail.

Speak to the neighbours.

Have they spoken to the tenants or seen them recently? Have they mentioned an imminent move? Is there any evidence of removal vans at the property? Take notes for your paper trail.

Once you have made these enquiries, you can turn your attention to the property itself.

Inside the property.

The condition of the interior of the property will help you make your decision, but the first thing you must do is gain entry.

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