There are several situations in which a tenant might leave your property before their tenancy agreement has expired. They may have found somewhere new to live, perhaps they can’t afford the rent any longer and are trying to negotiate an early finish, or they may already have fallen behind with rent payments and simply ‘disappeared’.
So, here are the top ten things you need to know about your and your tenant’s rights and obligations.
If your tenant has approached you (or ourselves as an agent) about ending the tenancy early
1. They can move out before the end of their tenancy if you are in agreement
2. If you do agree, it is reasonable for you (or ourselves) to negotiate a notice period
3. Once terms have been agreed, they need to be put in writing and both parties retain a signed copy
4. The tenant is liable for making rent payments until the end of any agreed notice period or a new tenant is secured
If your tenant simply vanishes
5. If you (or we) believe their disappearance is the result of criminal activity, the police need to be contacted.
6. The safest route to taking possession of the property, to protect yourself against possible future claims of unlawful eviction from the tenant, is to follow the legal process of serving the relevant Notices (Section 8 or Section 21) and obtaining a Possession Order from the Court. This is likely to take six to eight weeks, possibly longer.
7. Alternatively, it might seem clear that the tenant has left for good, e.g. they’ve taken all their possessions and left the keys. Nevertheless, if you wish to regain possession of the property as soon as possible, you MUST establish that the property has been abandoned:
- Place an Abandonment Notice on the door of the property (we can provide you with a template for this).
- The Notice must advise that the property has been deemed abandoned and state a number of days (e.g. 5), after which the locks will be changed if there is no contact from the tenant.
- The notice must also state that the tenant has a further period of time (commonly 14 days) to contact you for a new set of keys, after which you will claim vacant possession.
Be aware that a tenant could still challenge this process, although they are unlikely to succeed. A standard Assured Shorthold Tenancy will usually state that the tenant must inform the landlord if they are going to be away from the property for more than 14 days so, if they have been absent for longer, they are in breach.
8. Any belongings left in the property still legally belong to the tenant, so you cannot simply dispose of them. If there is no forwarding address, you/we must be able to prove you have made every reasonable effort to locate the tenant. If you sell the items, the proceeds technically belong to the tenant, although you can make a charge for the cost of clearing the property and deduct any other outstanding monies owed to you.
9. Legally, the tenant is liable for rent for the full term of their contract so you can pursue them for monies owed. However, this can be a long and expensive process and if they are already in financial difficulty and/or you don’t know where they have moved to, it may be better to simply write off the debt and focus on a new tenant.
10. Once new tenants move into the property, the previous tenant's obligation to pay rent ends.
If you would like any advice on a specific situation, we are always here to help - just call into your local Reeds Rains branch.