My Tenant Has Disappeared – What Shall I Do?

Posted on October 5th, 2017.

In the main tenancies are conducted without disruption and within the usual processes and procedures, there will be a check out meeting and keys handed back to either the landlord, his agent or the Inventory clerk.

Though on the odd occasion, you may find that your tenant has just disappeared, what then?  Do you just re enter, clean the place up and re let?

Well, yes and no- and many landlords act instinctively and go with their gut feeling. The typical thing is to change the locks, though this puts you on the wrong side of the law with your actions resulting in an unlawful eviction.

You could get hit from both sides here as firstly, the Local Authority can prosecute you. Secondly, if the tenant reappeared out of the blue, he/she could sue for compensation.

If you had reason to believe that the tenant had finally vacated, then this is your one line of defence. In situations like this and for the sake of covering your own back – best practice is to leave an abandonment notice on the door, save any comebacks.

The only drawback with this is if there was some kind of unforeseen event concerning your tenant; he/she may have been involved in a serious car accident and was in intensive care for 2 weeks or even the sudden passing of a close relative would both suggest that your tenant may not even have seen the notice.

As this is a Civil matter, in law there is the concept of what is known as Implied Surrender, this means that if the tenants actions were not consistent with vacating in the usual way, as a landlord you can accept the offer to vacate the property and go in and change the locks.

The question is how you know when this will apply – here are the four different scenarios:

1.   Has the tenant indicated that he will vacate by a certain date?

If the tenant told you in April that he would be leaving in June and there was no further correspondence or contact and you visited the property say in July and saw there was no one there – it’s a fair assumption that your tenant has left. This however, may be subject to the following;

2.  Have any keys been left behind?

This is the most important sign- if keys have been left behind, then it suggests that possession has also been given up.

3.  Are any possessions left behind?

If you see no sign of any personal possessions left in the property, then it would be safe to assume that the tenant has given up possession of the place, especially, if the keys have also been found in the property.

In the instance that you find the tenants possessions remain in the property, then it may be wise to take a cautious approach and apply for a possession order from the Court.

4. Are there any rent arrears?

Unless you can see that the tenant has clearly moved out, do not go for possession of the property if you have been receiving rent and payments are actually up to date. If the tenant wants to leave the property empty that is their prerogative.

If on the other hand there are arrears and you find the place empty and keys left behind, then it’s safe to proceed with getting the place ready for re letting.

It will also make it safer for you to repossess, if the tenant was to make a claim against any illegal eviction, any award he gets would be off-set against any rent arrears.

Again, it pays to be cautious as tenants are entitled to occupy the property whilst be in arrears, until such times they are evicted by a court order.

Final thought

If you have used an Agent to rent your property or otherwise, it’s always worth having details of your tenants next of kin as a point of contact. In such a situation this may prove to be very handy. It’s also been known for dishonest tenants to make it look as if they have moved out to entice the landlord to gain possession only to try and sue them later to be compensated for unlawful eviction.


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