Tenants possessions left in abandoned property

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    Tenants possessions left in abandoned property

    The tenancy is a statutory periodic tenancy after the original AST ended. The tenant has rent arrears and a S21 was issued around 3 months ago. There is no deposit and an EPC, gas safety certificate and how to rent guide were all issued previously to the tenant.

    I believe that the tenant might have abandoned the property which has been left in a bit of a state. No-one saw them leaving but the neighbours have said that they have not seen or heard them for several weeks. They have left a lot of their possessions at the property. The property was left unsecured so the locks had to be changed. I have been unable to contact the tenant recently and they have not contacted me.

    To legally regain possession of my property, is the only course of action for me to obtain a court order or are there any other options available to me?

    Are there any rules concerning the tenants possessions (with and/or without me obtaining a court order) that have been left in the property? and can these possessions be disposed of after a certain period of time (again with and/or without me obtaining a court order)?

    Thanks in advance for any responses received.

    #2
    The only 100% risk free way to retake possession of the property is to get a possession order from a court.
    An abandoned property is one of the reasons for prioritising possession hearings.

    However, if you are certain the property has been abandoned, you can probably simply retake possession (and by changing the locks you have already done this).

    It's possible that the tenant could claim you have illegally evicted them, but genuinely and reasonably believing that they were no longer living there would be a good defence.

    You are required to make reasonable efforts to return the abandoned possessions (the more valuable the greater the effort required).
    After a reasonable period (say a couple of months) you can dispose of the goods.
    If you receive any money from that disposal it belongs to the tenant and you would have to hand it over if requested (less reasonable costs of that disposal).
    When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
    Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).

    Comment


      #3
      What a shame you didn't take a deposit I have seriously considered not taking a deposit but them even more seriously thought about always taking a deposit. Apart from that, I agree with what jpkeates says above.

      Comment


        #4
        One point to consider in addition to jpkeates is that your tenancy agreement might provide you with the steps required to dispose of leftover items from the tenant. Mine does

        Comment


          #5
          Many thanks.

          Originally posted by jpkeates View Post
          The only 100% risk free way to retake possession of the property is to get a possession order from a court.
          An abandoned property is one of the reasons for prioritising possession hearings.

          However, if you are certain the property has been abandoned, you can probably simply retake possession (and by changing the locks you have already done this).
          I cannot 100% say that the tenant has definitely abandoned the property but I believe that they have and all the ‘evidence’ suggests that they have.

          If (by changing the locks as the property was left unsecured) I have already taken possession, would I still need to obtain a possession order through the court? In other words, as I have already had to change the locks and the tenant doesn't have keys for access, have I already taken legal possession of the property in the eyes of the law, thereby negating the need to obtain a possession order?

          Also, if I was to go down the court order route, I understand that I would need to provide a contact address for the tenant so that the court can serve the papers on them. As I have no forwarding address for the Tenant and they cannot gain access into the rental property because the locks have been changed, what address (if needed) would go on the court application?

          Originally posted by jpkeates View Post
          It's possible that the tenant could claim you have illegally evicted them, but genuinely and reasonably believing that they were no longer living there would be a good defence.

          You are required to make reasonable efforts to return the abandoned possessions (the more valuable the greater the effort required).
          After a reasonable period (say a couple of months) you can dispose of the goods.
          If you receive any money from that disposal it belongs to the tenant and you would have to hand it over if requested (less reasonable costs of that disposal).
          The possessions that have been left do not appear to be of great value. I doubt that any of the goods could be sold and I would suspect that it would cost me more to dispose of the goods than they are actually worth in total. I would agree that keeping the goods for two months could be a reasonable period of time to wait before disposing of them but are there any rules, legislation or guidance that could be relied upon to back this up?

          Hypothetically, if I was to keep the tenants goods for say two months and were then to dispose of them and the tenant then turned up shortly after asking where all their stuff was and why the locks had been changed, would their only recourse be to take me to court?

          Comment


            #6
            Originally posted by MR M View Post
            Many thanks.
            I cannot 100% say that the tenant has definitely abandoned the property but I believe that they have and all the ‘evidence’ suggests that they have.

            If (by changing the locks as the property was left unsecured) I have already taken possession, would I still need to obtain a possession order through the court? In other words, as I have already had to change the locks and the tenant doesn't have keys for access, have I already taken legal possession of the property in the eyes of the law, thereby negating the need to obtain a possession order?

            Also, if I was to go down the court order route, I understand that I would need to provide a contact address for the tenant so that the court can serve the papers on them. As I have no forwarding address for the Tenant and they cannot gain access into the rental property because the locks have been changed, what address (if needed) would go on the court application?
            As you are in possession as a matter of fact, the only purpose of any court action would be to end the tenancy.
            Have you checked with the local authority and utiility company about who'se name the council tax and bills are.



            The possessions that have been left do not appear to be of great value. I doubt that any of the goods could be sold and I would suspect that it would cost me more to dispose of the goods than they are actually worth in total. I would agree that keeping the goods for two months could be a reasonable period of time to wait before disposing of them but are there any rules, legislation or guidance that could be relied upon to back this up?
            Hypothetically, if I was to keep the tenants goods for say two months and were then to dispose of them and the tenant then turned up shortly after asking where all their stuff was and why the locks had been changed, would their only recourse be to take me to court?
            Probably.

            For the avoidance of doubt, they could in theory call the police, illegal eviction is an arrestable criminal offence.
            I've never heard of that happening though.
            More likely you'd hear from the local authority housing department or a solicitor.

            When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
            Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).

            Comment


              #7
              Originally posted by ChrisDennison View Post
              One point to consider in addition to jpkeates is that your tenancy agreement might provide you with the steps required to dispose of leftover items from the tenant. Mine does
              The AST states that the tenant shall remove all of his belongings from the property on or before the last day of the tenancy and that any goods which still remain 7 days after the tenancy expires or ends shall be deemed to have been abandoned and the Landlord may then dispose of those goods.

              I suppose the crux of that statement is whether the tenancy has actually ended to enable the clause to be relied upon? Based on the above, I am not sure that I can categorically claim that it has?

              Comment


                #8
                Without a court order you can never categorically claim this, you’re right. However, if for all intents and purposes you think you can claim it has ended, then I would go for this. It’s a judgment in the end, it’s your judgment unless the tenant eventually pops up again and claims he’s been illegally evicted, then it could become a court judgment. Who knows

                But joking aside - I think you’ve done the right things, keep the leftover items for a while if you can and then get rid of them, particularly if they aren’t valuable. And then life moves on.

                Comment


                  #9
                  Originally posted by jpkeates View Post
                  Have you checked with the local authority and utiility company about who'se name the council tax and bills are.
                  I have checked with both the utility companies and with the council tax. None would confirm whose name the accounts were in and none would confirm if the tenant had contacted them recently to terminate any accounts with them. I gave them the tenants details and told them I would be more than happy to take over the accounts provided they could confirm that the tenant had closed their accounts but they refused to disclose anything under GDPR.

                  Originally posted by jpkeates View Post
                  As you are in possession as a matter of fact, the only purpose of any court action would be to end the tenancy.
                  But to legally end the tenancy, I would need to apply to the court for a possession order. As mentioned above, my understanding is that I would need to provide a contact address for the tenant so that the court can serve the papers on them. As I have no forwarding address for the tenant and they cannot gain access into the rental property because the locks have been changed, what address (if needed) would go on the court application?

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Originally posted by MR M View Post
                    I have checked with both the utility companies and with the council tax. None would confirm whose name the accounts were in and none would confirm if the tenant had contacted them recently to terminate any accounts with them. I gave them the tenants details and told them I would be more than happy to take over the accounts provided they could confirm that the tenant had closed their accounts but they refused to disclose anything under GDPR.
                    That means it's not you, then doesn't it?



                    But to legally end the tenancy, I would need to apply to the court for a possession order. As mentioned above, my understanding is that I would need to provide a contact address for the tenant so that the court can serve the papers on them. As I have no forwarding address for the tenant and they cannot gain access into the rental property because the locks have been changed, what address (if needed) would go on the court application?
                    You would use the last address you have for them which is the property you own.
                    Getting mail redirected is the tenant's problem (you'd know it was working or not when the documents drop through the door).

                    I don't think there's any point going to court.
                    You are in possession, so the tenancy has ended.

                    There's a wrinkle in the law at present, which I've never been able to get to the bottom of.
                    A landlord serves notice and the tenant moves out as requested, how and when does the tenancy end?
                    Often it's obvious (there's a check out or the keys are handed back) but, like here, not always.

                    When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
                    Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by jpkeates View Post
                      That means it's not you, then doesn't it?
                      Yes but it doesn't confirm that the accounts are still in the tenants name either.

                      Should I put the utility and council tax accounts in my name then, the day after the S21 expires? Doing so could serve as further confirmation that we believed the tenant had abandoned the property.


                      Originally posted by jpkeates View Post
                      You would use the last address you have for them which is the property you own.
                      Getting mail redirected is the tenant's problem (you'd know it was working or not when the documents drop through the door).

                      I don't think there's any point going to court.
                      You are in possession, so the tenancy has ended.

                      There's a wrinkle in the law at present, which I've never been able to get to the bottom of.
                      A landlord serves notice and the tenant moves out as requested, how and when does the tenancy end?
                      Often it's obvious (there's a check out or the keys are handed back) but, like here, not always.
                      I am still torn between going down the court route or not…….

                      If the tenant has indeed moved out then I would agree that it is their responsibility to have any mail redirected to their new address but a problem may arise if they later return and claim they hadn’t actually moved out, so if I did apply for a possession order, would the view not be that I had put the address of the rental property on the application, in the knowledge that the tenant could not have received notification from the court by way of the court papers being sent because I had changed the locks, albeit through necessity?

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Yes to the utility and council tax.

                        If you do go to court, it's going to take months and months and you've already changed the locks, so if there's going to be a claim of illegal eviction, you've already done it.

                        You can write to the tenant at your address confirming the tenancy has ended and asking for a forwarding address; if it comes through the letter box of your property you know there's no redirect.
                        When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
                        Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Originally posted by jpkeates View Post
                          I don't think there's any point going to court.
                          You are in possession, so the tenancy has ended.
                          Thinking about this again, I wonder whether the court could even issue a possession order in such circumstances? As you say, the tenancy has de facto ended, either through surrender and re-entry, or through illegal eviction. So the whole purpose of a repossession claim, to get an order for possession, would be impossible for this case because the landlord is already in possession.

                          What could be possible is to ask the court for a declaration that the repossession was lawful, but I wouldn't even know where to start with how to issue such a claim.

                          So in the end all the landlord can do in my view is to wait and see. And in all likelihood all will be fine anyways.

                          Regarding the utility accounts: if a tenant leaves with rent arrears and leaves rubbish in the flat it's not unlikely that they also haven't advised the utilities of their departure. So the landlord should take meter readings when they gained possession and then advise all utilities that as of the date of possession (with the meter readings taken) the utilities accounts need to be in the landlord's name. Same with council tax.

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Originally posted by ChrisDennison View Post

                            Thinking about this again, I wonder whether the court could even issue a possession order in such circumstances? As you say, the tenancy has de facto ended, either through surrender and re-entry, or through illegal eviction. So the whole purpose of a repossession claim, to get an order for possession, would be impossible for this case because the landlord is already in possession.

                            What could be possible is to ask the court for a declaration that the repossession was lawful, but I wouldn't even know where to start with how to issue such a claim.

                            So in the end all the landlord can do in my view is to wait and see. And in all likelihood all will be fine anyways.
                            But going to court and hopefully being granted the possession order would at least legally end the tenancy.

                            Originally posted by ChrisDennison View Post
                            Regarding the utility accounts: if a tenant leaves with rent arrears and leaves rubbish in the flat it's not unlikely that they also haven't advised the utilities of their departure. So the landlord should take meter readings when they gained possession and then advise all utilities that as of the date of possession (with the meter readings taken) the utilities accounts need to be in the landlord's name. Same with council tax.
                            and

                            Originally posted by jpkeates View Post
                            Yes to the utility and council tax.
                            Will do

                            Originally posted by jpkeates View Post
                            You can write to the tenant at your address confirming the tenancy has ended and asking for a forwarding address; if it comes through the letter box of your property you know there's no redirect.
                            I have been there today and there was new mail from others that had been posted that wasn't there when I was there a couple of days ago, so the tenant has not redirected their mail to any forwarding address. I will continue to monitor this over the next few days to see if that changes.

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by MR M View Post

                              But going to court and hopefully being granted the possession order would at least legally end the tenancy.
                              The more I think about this the more I question whether the court would be able to issue a repossession order, because you're already in possession. Of course you could still apply and not tell the court that you're already in possession but that would then defeat the purpose. I think.

                              Comment

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