Tenant has left and retained keys .. Can I enter and change locks?

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    Tenant has left and retained keys .. Can I enter and change locks?

    I served a S21 notice in June 2012 and a S8 in September after more than two months of arrears had accumulated.

    I was granted an order for vacant possession on 15 Nov. I applied for a warrant of enforcement which was granted on 18 Dec and a Bailiff's date has not been set as yet until sometime in the new year.

    On sat 22 Dec, I received a call from an estate agent acting for the tenant to advise me that the Tenant took possession of another property through them on 17 Dec and had moved out.
    However, the tenant still has the keys.

    I went to the property later that day and found a stranger in the house. I challenged him and he made a phone call on his mobile and gave it to me to speak to another stranger who refused to identify his full name, and explain the reason why the other man was in the property. This second stranger said he was speaking on behalf of the Tenant and confirmed that the Tenant had relocated and advised me that on the next day the property would be cleaned after which the Tenant would be calling me to arrange to return the keys.

    I advised the stranger that if I did not hear from the tenant as advised, I would return to the property and carry out an inspection. In the meantime I tried to contact the tenant by phone and it was either switched off or the tenant was out of the country.

    The next day I heard nothing from the Tenant. I visited the property with an independent witness. The property was empty and in darkness. I entered the property under my contractual right to view and inspect.

    It was apparent that the tenant had moved. The property was empty and items of my own furniture were missing including some of my personal possessions which were in a locked attic storage area which was broken into. Some of the tenant's furniture still remain in the property i.e. a double bed and a three piece suite and coffee table. Otherwise the tenant has effectively moved out and in the kitchen the fridge was empty and at least 20 black bin liners of assorted rubbish was left piled high.

    I took the view that the tenant has permanently moved out based on the call from the estate agent and confirmation by the stranger on the phone the night before and the vacant state of the property. Also, the neighbours informed me that strangers (persons unknown to them as residents) had entered the property earlier that day and had moved furniture out. The tenant was not with them.

    It was apparent on inspecting the property that the tenant has moved out and given the keys to strangers who removed furniture including mine and possibly broken into my storage room and removed some of my stored possessions. Some of the tenant's possession remained in the property .. a sofa suite, a coffee table and a dismantled double bed in the attic.

    I decided to change the locks on grounds of security to prevent more of my personal possessions being removed without my authorisation as well as to prevent squatters from moving in as I did not know who these strangers were nor who else had keys to my property and criminal activity had occurred. For all I know, the strangers could have made copies of the keys whilst they were in their possession. The Tenant was not in attendance when furniture was removed.

    I am left in a situation that the Tenant had stopped paying the rent since June 2012 and is now six months in arrears and had moved without prior notification or leaving a forwarding address.

    While I was inspecting the property, I also took meter readings in the presence of my witness and left.

    I tried to call the tenant's contact numbers and failing a response, emailed to advise that I had entered the property under my right to carry out an inspection having been informed that the tenant had moved and on discovering that my furniture and other possessions had been either stolen and were missing, I took the decision to change the locks and my reasons for doing so in view of what can only be regarded as criminal activity.

    I asked the tenant to contact me to arrange to return the keys, to remove their remaining furniture, to return my stolen furniture and possessions, to obtain the final readings, to advise me of a forwarding address and not least, to arrange to pay me the arrears.

    I have not had a response as yet.

    Can anyone advise me what my legal position is ?
    I do not believe the tenant will challenge me in court because they will have to reveal their new address which they may want to keep secret from me and the utility companies.

    However, I have been told that as long as they have the keys, the tenancy has not ended and they are still liable for the rent. But by changing the locks, I have in fact, reclaimed possession of the property.

    I need advice on how I can make legal my action to change the locks .. given that a possession order has been granted and an eviction order even though the latter has not yet been served.

    Should I go to the court in January and ask them for a copy of the eviction order and an immediate date and ask the estate agent to forward that to the tenant. They have no obligation to do so and may not cooperate.

    If I do not hear from the tenant by the expiry of the eviction date, can I then legally reclaim my property and remove their remaining furniture.

    On health and safety grounds, I will undertake to remove the bin liners from the kitchen and dispose of them to prevent vermin from entering the house. Should I ask the Health and safety department to carry out an inspection and grant me an order before do so? Technically the tenant's rubbish is still their property.

    Any helpful comments and points of law would be much appreciated.

    On sat 22 Dec, I received a call from an estate agent acting for the tenant to advise me that the Tenant took possession of another property through them on 17 Dec and had moved out.
    On that point alone I believe you should be reporting this to the police, I'm sure they can require the LA to release the information to them. Your complaint should be about the theft of your goods not the loss of rent. Once you have the information you can pursue the whole matter through the courts.
    I offer no guarantee that anything I say is correct. wysiwyg


      The tenancy does not end until either the tenant surrenders the property to you or the bailiffs enforce the possession order.

      Now you may decide that the tenants actions to date imply that he has surrendered the property to you, but the presence of some of his furniture and the non-return of the keys tends to weaken such an argument. Remember, he doesn't have to be living there to have a valid tenancy.

      You seem to be of the opinion that the tenant will not be causing trouble, so maybe reclaiming the property is an option (your choice) but remember you can not just dump the tenants belongings - Law of Torts Act 1977. I can't see a judge being worried about the tenants valuable food-debris though


        Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful words of advice.

        Two things have transpired since my last post :

        1. A bailiffs notice was sent to the 'tenant/occupier' which I felt obliged to open. It was a final notice giving notification that the Bailiffs will be attending the property to gain entry on 4 Jan 2013 for unpaid sums due to NPower following a court order. (So I am not the only person chasing the tenant for money / unpaid bills). Also, putting two and two together, I feel absolutely sure that the bailiffs have been to the property before and the tenant allowed them to remove my furniture, possibly claiming that their furniture was the landlord's i.e. mine. I also believed that the tenant tried to abscond with my washing machine which was half out from under the work surface and had I not changed the locks, I would have now been minus a washing machine and possibly a tumble drier, dishwasher and fridge freezer.

        2. The stranger on the mobile phone contacted me again and speaking on the tenant's behalf he asked me to let the tenant remove the balance of their furniture. I told him that I do not have any agreement with him and that he should ask the tenant to contact me to arrange to move the furniture and while at it, please return my furniture and goods, which I assumed may have been mistakenly removed. He admitted that he was just a messenger and that the tenant had deceived him into lying and he thought he was just helping someone out but it has turned out to be rather complex as the removal people had hired a van and needed paying and he is only communicating with the tenant by text and not in person. He said that he would pass on my message by text and that he would not be contacting me again on the tenant's behalf.

        I read on propertyhawk.co.uk that as long as I have a court order for possession (and a warrant of enforcement); and if it is reasonable to assume that the tenant has left, or intend to abandon the property, without leaving a forwarding address and I have changed the locks stating my reasons such as security and squatters, and informed the tenant (in this case by email) of my actions and to contact me to obtain access to the property, then it is unlikely that the tenant can win if they decide to sue me for damages or even attempt to resume the tenancy. The tenant will have to reveal their new address to file a claim at the court, so it is highly unlikely they will attempt this, as it seems they are prepared to go underground and hide out for a while until the dust blows over.

        The possession order I was granted requires the tenant to vacate by 15 Nov 2012. I also have a warrant of execution. I will go to the court on 2nd Jan 2013 and ask the Bailiff's dept to grant me a date asap under the warrant of execution and I believe I can safely assume that once that date has expired, any ambiguity regarding the tenancy will cease. The possession order in effect terminates the tenancy and the execution warrant has been granted to enforce the order i.e. the termination of the tenancy and the removal of the tenant, forcibly if necessary.

        Under the possession order granted under S21, I will pursue this tenant with a CCJ which will hopefully bar them from ever opening anything but a basic bank account, obtaining credit, possibly having sky tv, perhaps renting again if credit checks are carried out, and make their life very inconvenient .. and they will have to live in the cash economy. Other creditors may have already have gone this far so adding one more will be for good measure.


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