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What can you do if your tenant just WON’T GO!

Moving out - me?Landlords often complain about unreliable tenants. Tenants who say that they are going to leave on Monday but who are still there three weeks later. Or tenants who fail to move out after having been served a section 21 notice. This can cause enormous problems particularly if there are tenants who are signed up and waiting to move in.

The first thing to say is that legally the tenant is entitled to stay on in the property until he is evicted through the courts. If a landlord goes in and changes the locks, then this is harassment and a criminal offence.

Many tenants are of course honourable people and won’t mess their landlords about by refusing to move on an agreed date. However, it is sometimes out of their control.

The LA rehousing problem

If for example the tenant wants to be re-housed by the Local Authority, he will be advised to stay put until the landlord gets an order for possession. In almost all cases the Local Authority will not re-house until this is done, and sometimes the tenant will not be re-housed until a day or so before the bailiff is due!

If they move out before then, they will be deemed ‘voluntarily homeless’ and will lose their right to be re-housed. Obviously they are going to stay put in those circumstances however much it is going to annoy their landlord.

My advice to landlords is never to trust their tenants or assume a tenant is actually going to move out on the due date, and to plan accordingly.

Talk to your tenants

If your tenants are talking to you (and if they are not it is bad news), see if you can find out what their plans are. If they have somewhere to go to which is confirmed, then you can be reasonably sure that they will be going (although nothing is 100% certain).

If they want to be re-housed by the local authority, then you should start proceedings for possession as soon as possible. You are doing nobody any favours by delaying. The sooner you can get a possession order, the sooner your tenants will be re-housed. (For a way to do this at minimal cost see my Do it Yourself Eviction kit)

If they refuse to speak to you, then just assume that they are not going to move out and proceed to issuing prossession proceedings as soon as you can.

If no notice has been served

If you want your tenants to go, and they have said that they will, but you have not actually served any possession notice on them, then you should do this as a precautionary measure.

Then if they fail to go, then you will not waste any more time waiting for the notice period to expire.

Don’t sign up new tenants

You need to be very careful indeed about signing up new tenants before the old ones have gone. Because if the current tenants fail to move out there is not much you can do about it, AND you will (normally) be liable to your new tenants for breach of contract. They can hold you responsible for example for the cost of temporary accommodation until they are able to move in.

The Landlord Law tenancy agreements have a clause (on the front page) which says that the tenancy agreement is conditional upon any current tenants moving out in time, but even though this may save you from being held legally liable, you still don’t want the embarrassment of letting your new tenants down.

Issue proceedings for possession

Using County Court bailiffs (or sometimes High Court Sheriffs) acting under a court order for possession is the ONLY legal way you can physically evict tenants from a property if they refuse to go voluntarily.

If you need your property back for any reason, or if your tenants are failing to pay rent, then you need to protect your position by issuing proceedings as soon as legally possible.

Sometimes tenants will try to get you to delay and they can be very persuasive. However you are not a housing charity. Start the proceedings if the tenants have failed to vacate by the due date, and tell them that the proceedings will be withdrawn once they have gone.

And finally

If your tenants are the ones who have said that they wanted to go AND if they served a notice to quit on you, but have since changed their mind, a blog post I did a year ago features a very interesting piece of legislation which may allow you to charge double rent.

Rent Arrears

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Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.

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22 Responses to What can you do if your tenant just WON’T GO!

  1. Tenants out staying there welcome is becoming a more common problem, my company have recently experienced this problem on 2 consecutive occasions even when serving the correct notices of possession.

    Some very good advice in this blog from Tessa :)

    Landlords remember if a tenant still doesn’t move out after an order of possession is granted that you must use a Balliff to remove them, do not do it your self!

  2. In defence of tenants, and having recently had to move myself I can say that my experience, and that of others I have to interview on a daily basis, is that there are far less properties on the market than there were 9 months ago. Speaking for my area, so finding suitable properties takes longer.

    Also when people have furniture to re-locate they have to find properties that fit what they have got, which also drags things out.

    I interviewed a woman 2 days ago whose move was delayed because she couldnt find anywhere that could accommodate her settee and bed and so had to make other arrangements.

    I have been advising people to start looking a couple of months before they are going to leave.

    Most tenants dont want to drag things out for a bailiff’s warrant, they are aware that this can damage their reputation.

    ON the subject of homelessness units. It is true that many of them will push a case to the warrant stage but Paragraph 8.32 of the Code of Guidance (Which should be their bible) states:-
    The Secretary of State considers that where a
    person applies for accommodation or assistance in obtaining accommodation,
    (c) there would be no defence to an application for a possession order;
    then it is unlikely to be reasonable for the applicant to continue to occupy the
    accommodation beyond the date given in the s.21 notice,

    I have obviously truncated the text but the flavour is there. I find most authorities ignore that bit

  3. I suppose that if a landlord knows that his tenants are going to be rehoused by the local authority after they’re evicted he might want the tenants to sign some sort of letter of authority saying that the local authority will provide the landlord with their new address and any subsequent address that the authority may have for them. The landlord/former landlord might want to enforce payment of whatever order for costs might be obtained – but without a note of the tenants’ new address this might be difficult.

    I know of one case where a landlord who got a possession order against his tenant (AST, s21 notice served) was awarded costs of over £900. I thought this quite good going for costs on a first possession hearing – but would you believe that the costs actually sought were over £5000?!

  4. Thats a good idea, but many of the tenants I have had to deal with have refused to co-operate with or even speak to the landlord.

    I always apply for a costs order as a matter of principle but say to my landlords that they should not get too excited about it as in my experience landlords very rarely get it!

  5. Chris the council would never comply with such a letter, nor would they be required to by law.

    Councils are bound by statutory instruments (laws) which are in turn covered by the Data Protection Act.

    Today I spent half an hour on the phone to a lovely woman, a landlord whose tenant’s housing benefit claim had been stopped. She recieved a non specific letter telling her that her tenant’s housing benefit claim was being ‘Investigated’. This could mean that they just wanted another document to complete the claim or that the tenant was a massive fraudster. HB wont tell the landlord because of the Data Protection Act, which they are clearly bound by. The tenant is their client, not the landlord.

    A landlord cannot force the hand of a council. This is a fact of life, even though it might raise problems for a landlord and seem to go against common sense.

  6. Ben, surely if the tenant signs a letter of authority authorising the Council to provide information to the landlord then they have to do this? This is frequently done for housing benefit tenants.

    Of course if there is no letter of authority then the Council cannot give out any information.

  7. Legislatively that might work but having worked in a council since 1487 I know the culture and I doubt it would shift anything in real terms.

    We have a paranoia about such things. It is a ‘Back covering’ mentality that prevails.

    We frequently get requests for tenant’s move-on addresses, but it gets stone-walled.

    My best assessment is that I dont think it would be easy to get that information, even with a letter of authorisation, without going higher and jumping through many hoops and before meetings have been had.

    Who was it who said “A camel is a horse designed by a committee?”.

    I find it embarassing to say, but it is the way it is. It certainly wouldnt be easy.

    Not much has changed since Kafka highlighted the problem to be honest.

    The vast majority of threatened illegal eviction come into being because there are housing benefit delays and when the landlord calls the department they wont discuss the case because the landlord is not the claimant. What I do is call housing benefit, find out the state of play, call the landlord back, tell them, and then all is well. I could be placed in the stocks for this, but I always adopt a practical approach.

  8. Good advice.

    While working in Local Government I have had to give this advice to many landlords. On occasions I have had to give the advice after landlords have already changed the locks.

    Luckily, the majority of landlords let the tenant back in without the need for legal action.

    However, last year while working at a West Midlands Council I successfully prosecuted a landlord who moved a tenants belongings into storage and changed the locks while the tenant was in hospital.

    The landlords did this in response to rent arrears.

  9. I since been advised that when a tenant faces homlessness a Housing officer will advise then to do nothing until a possession order is granted by a judge even if they are in rent arrears. In extreme cases they advise said tenants to apply for exceptional hardship meaning it can take a further 42 days before possession is granted and even then if the don’t move out you have to get a bailiff.

    Now I appreciate the prospect of being homeless is not good by why do local councils do this? Its hardly fair on an honest landlord afterall all a landlord wants if a tenant is not paying rent in most cases is home back so it can be re-let.

  10. Hi Kevin – my understanding is that they do it because they have limited properties to put people in. Their own properties have all been sold off at an undervalue under Mrs Thatchers right to buy …

  11. I understand why Tessa however it’s at the expense of the landlord which is in my opinion not fair.

    Afterall without private landlords the housing crisis would be far worse! They need to cut some slack on good landlords who work inside the restrictions of the Housing Act.

    There are still loads of empty homes in the UK councils should work with each other, if someone faces homelessness a local council should refers to boundary council areas for re-ho
    ing assistance. Again this just my personal opinion :0)

  12. Kevin all councils desperately need homes from private landlords. Most council’s have procurment officers to bring them. Our’s runs an advertising campaign she attends meetings where landlords go and generally puts herself around on a full time basis but still struggles to meet demand. I know procurement officers in 3 other boroughs and 1 charity and it is the same story with them. And with housing benefit cuts landlords are often nervous of offering properties.

    Tessa is right, the right to buy dessimated social housing stock and then the clause that prohibited councils from using the money made from sale to build new properties was the final nail in the coffin that largely drives the current housing crisis. In my area we have 1,400 council homes and 17,000 people on the housing list.

    Homelessness units dont leave this until the last minute just to get at landlords, in fact I would say the concerns of the landlord arent high on their list of priorities at all to be brutally honest. They are constantly trying to juggle the amount of applicants with the few resources they have to deal with them.

    By law council’s shouldnt actually be leaving things until the last minute, they need to open a homelessness application in these scenarios when the tenant is threatened with homelessness within the next 28 days, but as Tessa suggests, in areas of high demand it is nigh on impossible to be that proactive.

    Yesterday we had 85 people through our doors by 2pm. How can anyone possibly deal proactively with that onslaught?

  13. Ben,
    You make a valid point no doubt and i certainly wouldn’t want to be doing your job, must be very stressful.
    However surely you don’t agree that its right a tenant comes to a Housing officer or Citizens advice and says “my landlord is taking legal action against me as i haven’t paid the rent” or “my landlord has served a s.21 notice on me, and i have no were else to live” and the advice given is do nothing until the landlord gets a court order!
    Then when the landlord finally does get a possession order they then have to pay for a bailiff, only to find the tenant has moved the day before the bailiff’s appointment because they have been re-homed. In the time it takes a landlord to go through the process it is unlikely/rare the landlord will get any rent whilst a tenant does nothing based on advice from a housing officer.
    Tenant moves out which is great news for the landlord, leaving the house in a mess, with no forwarding address & no keys, utilities have been cut off (happens frequently) landlord phones up Housing office asks if they can help with a forwarding address and is advised that they can’t provide that information for data protection.
    So the landlord ends having to pay to secure his house, get it cleaned, re-connecting the utility supply and has to make a “Single Claim” on the deposit if via The Deposit Protection Service (DPS) which takes more time, plus loose rent whilst trying to get his property back to a state that it can be rented again.
    If you were a landlord in the same position, trying to pay a mortgage on your rental and mortgage on another property wouldn’t you think the housing system is favouring bad tenants?
    I just think the system is very unfair on landlords of course i have bias opinion as work for landlords.

  14. Kevin the law on homelessness is quite clear in that a homelessness unit shouldnt leave things up to the execution of a warrant before taking action. It would depend on whether they were just lazily leaving things or forced into it because they have nowhere to put the tenant temporarily.

    I am in a unique position because I am also a freelance trainer for the Chartered Institute of Housing and train housing staff in both inner city areas and rural. I have to say that in rural areas I do find homelessness staff trying to work more closely with landlords at times like these. Smaller communities mean they have a more mutually supportive relationship.

    In cities like London, Manchester, Liverpool etc the sheer numbers rules that out. In an ideal world I think the rural authorities get it right.

    Having said that, having tenants who just wont go and are waiting for local authority help is one of the risks/pains in the arse of being a landlord. It wont happen to every landlord with every case and as in any sphere of activity you have to take the rough with the smooth.

    Every landlord wants a saintly tenant who pays their rent on time, exhibits the behaviour of a cistercian monk and leaves politely on the due day. Similarly evey tenant wants a landlord like Mahatma Ghandi, but then life steps in.

  15. You failed to deal with bully landlords that are just out there to make money from tenants and intentionally leave their properties in disrepair, in order to frustrate tenants out.

    It is a landlord’s world and the law is in their favour. That is why people that should remain tenants work 2-3 jobs to become and remain landlords. What a shame!

  16. Of course there are bully landlords. These are discussed elsewhere on the site. There are good landlords and bad landlords as there are good and bad tenants.

    I was talking to a landlord only yesterday who was telling me how she thought the law was just there to protect the tenants and that the landlords had a tough time. “Tenants don’t see it like that” I said …..

  17. Alicia I seem to spend vast amounts of my day dealing with angry landlords who complain that the law is all on the tenant’s side, and angry tenants telling me that the law only exists to protect Landlords.

    If you are a landlord with a nightmare tenant and you have someone like me bleating on about eviction procedures and threatening them with legal action then it must seem like the law is weighted towards tenants. Likewise, a tenant whose landlord is invoking the break clause and telling them they have to give up their home and start building a life all over again, just so they can rent at a higher rate or sell to make themselves more money, when the tenant cant mount a legal defence, it seems like the law is on the side of the landlord.

    I understand both views to be honest, but I do think that ultimately, all power really resides with the landlord.

    In an ideal world I would like to see the death of the Assured Shorthold Tenancy. I am myself an assured shorthold tenant. I like where I live, me and Frazzy have decorated it, we keep it clean and would really like to stay but by law, when our contract is up the landlord may decide he wants us to leave. We have no control over that. It’s a terrible, insecure way to live.

    I dont think that is the landlord’s fault, but the fault of a tenancy system that denies security to people who have to live in it

  18. I am a first time landlord stuck with a dishonest tenant who would not leave as a section21 is served to him.He claims that he has done this before and it could take up to a year before i can get him out of my house.He is on housing benefit and the tenancy was only for six months.He also sublet my house to his family.I feel the law is on his side as i am helpless and must wait for the notice period and court matter for possession to take its course.

  19. I am afraid that it is a tenants right to stay on after the end of the fixed term. Landlords need to be aware of tenants rights before they rent.

    However so long as you have got your paperwork right and deal with things promptly you WILL get the tenant out eventually.

    You will find more information to help you do this both on this blog and on my Landlord Law website at

  20. Whoa, hold on a second – if he’s sublet the whole of the property without a clause in the tenancy allowing him to, hasn’t he given up possession and therefore, as the sub-tenants have no right to be there, can be got out by Notice to Quit and issue of proceedings, or maybe even under trespass?

    Don’t quote me on this though, I admittedly haven’t come across unlawful sublets in the private sector much. I know that unlawful sublets in the social rented sector result in loss of security of tenure which means they can be got out by bare NTQ… surely there’s some equivalence, like it reverts to a bare Common Law tenancy and thus the only notice requirement is that set out in the Protection from Eviction Act 1977?

    If he’s sublet part of it, then he may be in breach of the tenancy agreement so you can get him out under Ground 12 which has a lesser notice period?

  21. Actually yes, you are probably right, if he has sublet the whole of the property he will have lost the protection of the Housing Act and it will be a common law tenancy. Which the landlord can end by notice to quit.

    However he will still have to go to court to get an order for possession and the time it takes to do this is more or less the same.

    My feeling is that if a section 21 notice has already been served, serve a notice to quit too, and then issue proceedings pleading both grounds in the alternative. Then you have all options covered.

    But it would depend on the precise facts.



About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer and specialises in creating products and services which help landlords and letting agents learn and understand landlord & tenant law. For example, she runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 14th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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