A guide to property abandonment

While undoubtedly rewarding, being a landlord can be an extremely difficult and demanding job. Having a difficult tenant is something that every property owner wants to avoid, but unfortunately, it does happen. Breaking a contract with a problematic tenant can sometimes be a stressful experience, and seeking help from a legal professional is recommended.

If a tenant is proving too unruly and has caused nothing but issues, it may be time to look for a way out of the contract. Unfortunately, this can be extremely difficult.

Section 1 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 states that it is illegal to evict a resident from their rented property without obtaining one of the following:

  • An eviction date, which has been obtained through a warrant of possession that had been lawfully obtained by due process
  • Voluntary surrender by the tenant, in writing

Unfortunately, if neither of these two points are completed, the rest of the legal processes can be extremely tricky. Therefore, landlords are advised to approach such situations with a degree of caution.

About abandonment

At times when neither of the two scenarios outlined above fit the bill, it is up to you, the landlord, to make a decision on whether possession should be recovered without either a surrender or a warrant. In many cases, the property owner will look to the letting agent for guidance on this situation.

An alternative method of defence is to be able to put forward a case for abandonment. However, in order for this to be successful, the landlord must demonstrate that they have reasonable evidence to assume that the property had been abandoned.

Usually, it is advisable to assume that the tenant will reappear, claiming unlawful eviction. However, if you keep this in the back of your mind from the outset, then continue with the process accordingly, you will be safe in the knowledge that if they do reappear, you already have enough evidence to continue with the case.

Unfortunately, gathering this evidence is not always the simplest part of the process, and often requires some research by the landlord or agent.

However, carrying out the steps below ahead of making the decision to start a case for abandonment could help to prevent any unlawful eviction cases from being brought against you.

Consult referees

Before any tenancy is finalised, landlords ask for more than one reference. Therefore, if a property is abandoned, contact each referee to find out whether they know where they are. Also, if they are still at the same place of work.

While contacting these individuals, take notes of the time and date, along with the contact details of the person you spoke to. All of this information can be used as evidence.

Speak to the neighbours

Talk to the neighbours of the property - have they spoken to your tenant recently? When was the last time they saw them? Did they see or hear any evidence of a move?

Talk to utility companies

It can be tricky to get information from gas and energy suppliers, but they may hold vital information that helps you to build up your paper trail. Try simple questions such as “Is this person still registered as the billpayer in this property?” and see how far you get.

Inside the property

Once the enquiries above have been carried out, the next step is to try inside the property itself. The condition of each room inside the property will give away a lot of information about when it was last lived in - but of course, you must first gain entry.

Carrying out this type of inspection should be done in the same way as any routine checks. Firstly, provide written notice to the tenant that you will be visiting on a certain date. Specify what time you will be visiting, and state that if the tenant is not present, you will enter with your own key. Should the tenant contact you to let you know this is not convenient, you will have received confirmation that they are still residing in - or using - the property. If you are unable to get them to surrender the property voluntarily, you must commence the legal process in court.

In cases where you do not receive a response to your written request for inspection, you may carry out the check as planned.

When inside, take photographs of the current condition of the property, ensuring to look in the wardrobes, cupboards and fridge to ensure they are empty. Should you need to fight your case in court at a later date, you must be able to prove that the property is not capable of sustaining day-to-day living. Also, if your area is safe from squatters, leave a note on the outside of the door stating that the property has been abandoned and you have recovered possession. Then, leave a contact telephone number on the note for the tenant, and give a timescale as to how long they have to contact you.