Around 36% of UK landlords have had a tenant abandon a property.

This is where a tenant leaves a property before the end of the tenancy without informing their landlord that they have vacated.

Research shows abandonment is mainly an issue in North East England, however, all landlords should be aware of the potential for this to happen as it is an issue that has been recorded across the country.

When a tenant abandons a property they still have the legal right to return and continue their residence, meaning that, landlords do not have the right to stop them from doing so.  Gaining possession of an abandoned property, means landlords can be faced with a long, legal process especially those where rent is in arrears.

The Housing and Planning Act – which recently received Royal Assent – includes measures to tackle this issue as follows:

Recovering abandoned premises

To encourage more efficient recycling of rented property, the bill proposes that in certain cases, a landlord in the private rented sector will be able to recover possession of an abandoned property without the need for a court order.

A private landlord will be able to give a tenant notice which immediately ends the tenancy if:

rent above a certain level is unpaid

the landlord has given at least two warning notices

neither the tenant or a named occupier has responded in writing to those warning notices before the date specified in the notices.

Rent Arrears

The rent that must be outstanding will depend on how often it is paid.

if the rent is payable weekly or fortnightly then at least eight consecutive weeks’ rent must be unpaid.

if the rent is payable monthly then least two consecutive months’ rent must be unpaid.

if the rent is payable quarterly then at least one quarter’s rent must be more than three months in arrears.

if the rent is payable yearly then at least three months’ rent must be more than three months in arrears.

Warning Notice Provisions.

Although the first warning notice may be given even if the unpaid rent condition is not yet met, the second notice may be given only once the unpaid rent condition has been met and can only be given at least two weeks, and no more than four weeks, after the first warning notice.

Also, the date on which the Landlord intends to recover possession must be at least 8 weeks after the date on which the first warning notice is given to the tenant

Taking the provisions together, the earliest that a tenancy can be recovered under this procedure is therefore 12 weeks and that is assuming that rent is not paid sporadically.

A tenant with limited resources can effectively block the entire procedure by making one rent payment of not even a full week’s rent every seven weeks.

In addition, even if the landlord does reclaim possession the tenant will be able to apply to the county court within six months of the notice bringing the tenancy to an end for their tenancy to be reinstated if they had a good reason for failing to respond to the warning notices.

This could effectively sterilise the property for that six month period since, presumably, a successful claim for reinstatement will inevitably mean the eviction of the blameless replacement tenants.

The bill gives no guidance on what is to happen in these circumstances.