Here is a question for the blog clinic from Carrie who is a landlord
I am a landlady and I suspect that my tenants have absconded, I have stopped receiving rent and they cannot be contacted. I understand that in these circumstances it is common practice to put up and abandonment notice and if there is no response change the locks.
My property is a top floor flat and there is no way to see inside to look for the obvious signs of abandonment. I wrote to the tenants stating my intention to visit the property on a specific date and time. When I arrived, I discovered that the locks had already been changed.
There is no way to conclusively prove that the flat is empty without gaining access.
My question is: is there a way I can gain access to my flat without having to go down the protracted court possession route?
I hope you can reveal something which allows me to act within the law.
This is a difficult problem and there is no easy answer. The ONLY safe way to go in and change the locks is with the court bailiffs after an order for possession has been obtained. But I agree it is a long process and not an attractive option.
I would suggest that in any event you serve a section 21 notice and a section 8 notice now, so at least if you do have to issue proceedings you won’t waste any more time.
Personally in this situation I think abandonment notices are a waste of time (and dangerous as they are an invitation to squatters). I wrote about this >> here.
Landlords are entitled to change the locks and take back the property if the conduct of the tenant is incompatible with an intention to continue with the property. Legally this can be taken to be an ‘implied offer to surrender’ which you can ‘accept’ by going in and changing the locks.
However you need to be very careful about this, as if the tenant is on holiday, in hospital or in prison, these are NOT circumstances where an offer to surrender will be implied. So if you do go in and change the locks in these situations, you can be sued for compensation for unlawful eviction.
Things for landlords to consider
As the tenants remedy for unlawful eviction is a claim for damages, if there are rent arrears these would be offset against any award they might get, so with a tenant in serious arrears of rent it may be worth going along with a locksmith to see what you can find.
If the tenant has moved out taking all his belongings and has left the keys behind you are safe to repossess. Unfortunately for someone in your position you have to change the locks before you can find this out.
It might also be an idea for you to do bit of investigation. If you are able to prove that the tenants are living elsewhere then you will be in a much stronger position. A tracing agent may be able to help you here.
Weighing up the risk
If you speak to a solicitor the answer you will always get is that you need to get an order for possession in this situation. This is the only safe course of action.
However there are times when it is worth taking a risk. It is up to the landlord to weigh up the options and decide whether it is a risk worth taking.