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.
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.