Tenants leaving a rented property
In England, if a tenant chooses to leave a property for more than two weeks, they must usually tell their landlord. This is usually stated in their Tenancy agreement, so the tenant would be breaking the terms of their tenancy if they failed to inform the landlord they were leaving.
In Wales, if a contract holder chooses to leave the property for 28 days or more, they should inform their landlord. As in England, this requirement will typically be set out in their contract and failure to do so may result in the contract holder breaking the terms of their occupation contract.
A tenant will still owe rent until the tenancy is ended correctly or the landlord re-lets the property. A landlord could deduct money from the tenant’s deposit or apply for a court order to claim what is owed.
How can landlords end a tenancy or occupation contract due to tenant abandonment?
The landlord must be sure that the tenant has surrendered the tenancy by abandonment before letting the property to somebody else or changing the locks (ie repossessing it). The best way to do this is by contacting the tenant to ensure they are abandoning the property. Returning the keys is another clear indication from the tenant that they are agreeing to surrender the tenancy.
Repossessing an abandoned property in England
The landlord can repossess an abandoned property where rent is unpaid. The amount of rent arrears that allows a landlord to take possession depends on the frequency of rent payments outlined in the tenancy agreement. For example, if rent is paid monthly, notice can be given after rent is two consecutive months in arrears.
The landlord can then bring the tenancy to an end by adhering to the following procedure:
serve a first warning notice that requests the tenant, occupier or deposit-payer to respond and pay rent within 8 weeks
serve a second warning notice if there is no response
if the tenant still hasn’t responded, a third warning notice must be placed on a noticeable part of the property. This must be served at least 5 days before the end of the initial 8 week period outlined in the first notice. The tenancy will end at the expiry of this notice, at which point the landlord can peacefully repossess the property
If the tenant responds to any of the notices or makes rent repayments then the abandonment procedure ends.
Repossessing an abandoned property in Wales
From 1 December 2022, following changes introduced by the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, a landlord of a property in Wales needs to serve only 2 notices to their contract holder if they believe that they have abandoned the property.
The first notice should tell the contract holder that the landlord wishes to end their occupation contract if they do not receive confirmation from them in writing within 4 weeks that they have not abandoned the property. During the 4-week notice period the landlord must investigate the suspected abandonment by making all inquiries required to ensure they’re satisfied that abandonment has occurred.
If, at the end of the 4-week notice period, no confirmation is received from the contract holder and the landlord is satisfied that abandonment has occurred, they can serve a second notice to the contract holder to terminate their contract and can repossess the property without a court order.
Contract holders may challenge repossessions of this type within 6 months of the landlord’s recovering possession if, for example, they had a good reason for not responding to the first notice or the landlord failed to investigate the suspected abandonment before repossessing.
Investigating tenant abandonment
The landlord must make the necessary checks to confirm that the tenant has abandoned the tenancy. It could be that the tenant is on a long holiday, in hospital, or undergoing a short prison sentence. Some ways that a landlord may obtain evidence as to whether or not abandonment has occurred include making enquiries by:
speaking to the neighbours
checking to see whether the keys have been returned
finding out if the rent is still being paid
contacting a relative for information on the tenant's whereabouts
finding out if belongings or furniture have been removed from the property
Using an abandonment notice
If a landlord repossesses a property using the above methods (ie without obtaining a court order for possession), landlords should make sure they place a relevant abandonment notice (eg the final notice) on a noticeable part of the property. This helps protect the landlord against illegal eviction claims. This notice should advise the tenant where they can contact the landlord to get the new key to the property if they return. It should also include:
a statement from the landlord of their belief that the property has been abandoned (plus relevant dates)
the landlord’s full name and contact details
the tenant’s name and the address of the property
a statement asking any persons who know of the tenant or the tenant’s whereabouts to inform the landlord
a date whereby if the tenant has not made contact with the landlord, then it will be presumed that the tenancy has been surrendered (ie the date that the landlord intends to repossess the property)
a statement that recommends that the tenant seek advice in relation to their tenancy
if the landlord puts up the notice with a witness present, the witness's name
A landlord may wish to take photographs of the notice as proof that they have informed the tenant of their intention to regain possession of the property. Notices must be served either in person or left in an obvious place at the property. It’s also good practice to have an independent witness attest to the situation (ie the abandonment and the repossession) in writing when repossession occurs.
Other methods of repossessing property
The notice and repossession procedures outlined above should only be used if the landlord is sure (or has very strong reason to believe) that the tenant has abandoned the property.
If the landlord wants to end a tenancy but is unsure whether the tenant is living in the property or not, it may be best to end the tenancy by issuing a ‘no fault eviction notice’, ie a Section 21 (Form 6A) notice in England or a Section 173 notice for Wales, rather than run the risk of unlawful eviction proceedings (especially if the tenant has left their belongings or furniture in the property). If the landlord re-lets or repossesses the property, they also run the risk of being charged with breaching the terms of the tenancy agreement.
When can a landlord enter an abandoned property?
A property may appear clearly abandoned but, until the above processes have been followed (ie the provision of notices and expiry of notice periods), a landlord’s rights to enter the property are limited. In such situations, the landlord can generally only enter the property under the following circumstances:
the property is in an insecure condition
there is fire or flooding in the property
electrical or gas appliances could cause damage or danger to the property
In these circumstances, the landlord should invite an independent witness to confirm the condition of the property and the situation in writing.