“Doing a runner” – what should you do if your tenant vanishes?

You check your bank statement, only to find the rent on your property hasn’t been paid. You phone the tenant but there’s no reply. It’s a difficult situation so what should you do next?

‘Doing a runner’ is a real problem in tough, economic times and is known in the rental sector as the ‘abandonment of a tenancy’. But there are strict procedures you must follow to ensure you keep within the law.
Take action

Has the property been abandoned?

First, before you make any further decisions, inform your insurer as soon as you suspect that your rental property has been abandoned. You could invalidate your insurance policy if you fail to inform them that the property is no longer occupied.

Next, visit the property, talk to the neighbours and ask them when they last saw the tenant or whether they’ve seen the tenant moving out. Look for signs that the tenant has left – unopened post piling up, unemptied bins, drawn curtains.

If you suspect the tenant has left, remember that it’s a criminal offence to deprive, or attempt to deprive a tenant of their occupation of the property. You cannot bar a tenant from a property without obtaining either a surrender of the tenancy or obtaining a Possession Order through the courts. If you genuinely think the tenant has moved out, send a letter advising that you will be making an inspection on a particular date and time and that if they are not present, you will use a spare key to enter the property. But be cautious – take a witness with you, maybe your letting agent, to verify what you find.

Take full documentary evidence

Business woman at workTake photographs of the property and take meter readings. Even better, ask your inventory clerk to carry out a full check-out inventory as independent evidence of the condition of the property. Itemise all the tenant’s possessions and estimate their value. This will help to show the court that, if the tenant does return, you have evidence that abandonment has been established ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. Keep all this information in a file so that you have full documentary evidence should you need to go to court.

But always tread carefully, there may be legitimate reasons for the tenant being away – they may be visiting a sick relative, they may have had a serious accident, be in hospital or even in prison.

Abandonment notice

The law and lettings, if you are as certain as you can be that the tenant has left, you can now fix an Abandonment Notice to the door of the property and serve a 14 day Housing Act 1988 Section 8 Notice stating your grounds for seeking possession.

You now become responsible for paying Council Tax and you should also take meter readings and inform utilities suppliers that you have taken over the property. You may be able to trace the tenant using the information they supplied at the start of the tenancy. You could try talking to one of their referees, maybe an employer, to see if they know where the tenant is. In the meantime, you must store the tenant’s possessions – as the landlord, you have a legal duty of care to the tenant to protect them.

But always act with caution. It is a criminal offence to unlawfully evict a tenant from rental premises without obtaining either voluntary surrender by the tenant (preferably in writing) or an eviction date obtained via a warrant of possession lawfully obtained by due process.

Although you cannot prevent this happening, you can reduce the likelihood. Use a professional letting agent, one that is a member of ARLA, The Property Ombudsman and The Dispute Service, who will fully investigate the tenant’s references before they move in. And if your property is also professionally managed by your letting agent, they will have strict credit control procedures in place to minimise the risk of abandonment and deal with the problem if it does happen.

 

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About the Author

Vidhur studied Management Sciences at Manchester University, focusing on accountancy, before going on to qualify as a chartered accountant. He began his career working in investment banking but after several years decided to join Benham and Reeves in 2003. Since then he has expanded the finance department, introducing a broader range of services to encompass all financial aspects of property investment, from collecting rent through to completing tax returns (or ATED returns for overseas companies). Read more about Vidhur Mehra here - Read full profile

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