We received a telephone call this week from Brian who is a landlord, and he asked the following question:
“I am a landlord, and I think my tenants have just up and left. They have stopped paying the rent, and their mobile numbers no longer work. I am aware that in these circumstances I should put up an abandonment notice and should there be no response when it expires, I can change the locks.
I wrote to the tenants stating that I would like to carry out a property inspection on a specific date and time. When I visited the property, I found that the locks had changed. As my flat is on the first floor and its a letterbox in the communal hallway rather than the front door, there is no way to see inside for any apparent signs the property had been abandoned.
As there is no conclusive proof the flat is empty without gaining access, is there a way I can gain access to the property without having to get a possession order from the courts?”
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question.
The SAFEST option is to obtain a possession order from the courts and change the locks with bailiffs. However, this can be a lengthy and costly process.
We recommend that you serve the relevant notice now, so should you need to issue proceedings no more time will be wasted.
You could put up an abandonment notice, but these could have dangerous consequences such as an invitation to squatters.
As a landlord, you are entitled to change the locks and take the property back if your tenant’s conduct is not compatible with an intention to continue with the property.
You could legally take this as an ‘implied offer to surrender’ which you as the landlord can ‘accept’ by changing the locks.
You do need to be very careful about this because if your tenant is away on holiday, then this is not a circumstance where an ‘offer to surrender’ can be accepted.
If you do change the locks and it turns out that this was the case, the tenant would have the right to sue you for compensation for unlawful eviction.
Should your tenants be in arrears, these could be offset against any unlawful eviction claim for compensation, and therefore it might be worth going along with a locksmith to see what you can find.
Once you are in the property and find the tenant’s belongings are gone, and the keys have been left, you are then safe to repossess the property and have the locks changed.
You might also want to consider using a tracing agency to help you find out the tenants are living elsewhere. If you can prove this, you will be in a strong position.
If you do speak to a solicitor, the answer they give you will be to get a possession order from the court. THIS IS THE ONLY SAFEST COURSE OF ACTION.
There are times when it is worth you the landlord to take a risk. You need to weigh up the options and decide whether it is a risk worth taking.
Has this happened to you? We would love to know or if you have a question that you would like answered, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on 01243 252984.
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