Here is a question to the blog clinic from Gavin who is a landlord
I have a tenant who has been growing weed in the house . Police have remove plants etc and returned keys to me. Tenant can not be contacted and has not payed rent etc .
The house has still got his goods in, can I remove them and let to someone else?
Abandonment cases are always tricky, even here where the police have been involved due to the tenant growing weed / cannabis.
Strictly speaking the property is still let to the tenant, unless the behaviour of the tenant is such that it can be deemed to be an ‘implied offer to surrender‘ the tenancy which the landlord can then accept by going in and changing the locks.
The classic behaviour for an implied offer to surrender is when the tenant removes all his belongings and leaves the keys behind. This has not happened here.
So we need to consider whether the tenants behaviour can be deemed to be an ‘implied offer to surrender’. What in reality is the prospect of his wanting to come back?
You need to bear in mind here that unlawful eviction is both a criminal offence (for which you can be prosecuted) AND a civil wrong entitling the tenant to claim compensation in the civil courts.
Criminal prosecution for unlawful eviction
Illegal eviction prosecutions are generally brought by local authorities but I can’t see either the tenant approaching them in these circumstances or (in the unlikely event that he did) their being at all sympathetic to a prosecution.
Landlords often post an ‘abandonment notice‘ to properties where tenants have disappeared asking them to contact the landlord for the keys.
This can help a landlord defend criminal prosecution (were one to be brought) but I have to say I don’t like the idea, as it is an open invitation to squatters.
I would have thought here though that you are reasonably safe from prosecution.
Civil claims for compensation
This is the other legal remedy available to tenants. However the tenant will find it difficult to bring a claim as he owes you rent, as (were he to succeed in a claim) this would be offset against any award he would receive. I suspect the outstanding rent is greater than any potential award he would receive.
I myself also do not see a tenant who has been in trouble with the police for growing cannabis wanting to have anything to do with the courts. I suspect it is more far likely that he will just want to slope off and be left alone.
The tenants possessions left behind
The final thing is what do you do about the tenants possessions? You cannot just dispose of them as they belong to him (although you can remove them from the property, eg if you want to re-let it, and store them elsewhere).
Here you need to follow the procedures of the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977. This provides that if you have made reasonable efforts to contact the tenant but he cannot be traced, you CAN deal with the items.
However they will still belong to the tenant so anything of value needs to be sold, ideally at auction, and any proceeds of sale kept for the tenant after any money due to you has been deducted.
Keep proper records of what you do and read this ‘horror story‘ on my Landlord Law site for an example of what can happen.