Q: I signed up a new tenant on a twelve month shorthold tenancy lease six weeks ago. She paid a month’s rent up front and the same as a deposit, but failed to pay her rent at the start of the second month. She ignored my phone calls so I went round to visit the property and discovered she has moved out, leaving behind a bed, and a trail of damage. She has not returned the keys. Am I legally entitled to go in, remove the items she left, change the locks and re-let the property?
A: Whilst it would appear that the tenant has abandoned the property, you could be accused of unlawful eviction if you re-let it and he or she returns. A landlord cannot regain possession during the first six months of a shorthold tenancy. If however you can prove abandonment, then you will be able to regain possession and re-let the property.
The law does allow you to enter the premises if you believe the property has been abandoned but it is always wise to take a reliable person with you as a witness. You should take photographs as evidence of any damage done by the tenant.
To protect yourself you should apply to the court for a possession order. Try and get statements from witnesses such as neighbours who may have seen the tenant moving out. This will help to convince the court that the property really has been abandoned. Once the possession order has been granted you can re-enter the building in the presence of a Court Bailiff to witness the changing of the locks. Any items such as the bed you mentioned must be kept for three months before you can dispose of them. This may also be a good time to have a solicitor check over your lease documents.
(Article published 29/05/2017)