tenancy abandonment: a landlord’s guide

Sophie Kamkar

Written by

Sophie Kamkar

Content Marketing Manager

Less than 1 minute

Updated: 14 May 2024

Abandonment by tenants is a serious matter for landlords and can have a range of potentially costly consequences.   

In many cases, you may not even know your property has been abandoned until you stop receiving rent – meaning it could be sitting empty for months, in which time it will have been exposed to the risks associated with unoccupied homes.  

As a landlord, you’re not legally allowed to deprive a residential tenant of their occupation of the premises – and attempting to do so could see you charged with a criminal offence.  

So, what can you do? And how can you protect your property in the meantime, if you believe it’s been left empty and abandoned?  

What is an abandoned property ?  

An abandoned property is a rented home that has been permanently vacated by the tenant, without notifying the landlord or the property manager.  

It is a frustrating and complicated situation for landlords, as the tenancy has not been legally ended by the tenant and, therefore, the landlord is unable to reclaim – or even enter – the property without permission.  

Not only does this mean the landlord is unlikely to receive the agreed rent payments, but it also puts the property at a greater risk of anti-social behaviour, vandalism and damage, and fire, flood and frozen pipes.  

Taking back an abandoned property can also present challenges for landlords and must be pursued through the right legal challenges to avoid breaking tenancy terms.  

how long can a tenant leave a property empty? 

The exact length of time a tenant can leave a property empty before they need to warn their landlord depends on the terms of their contract.   

A typical tenancy agreement may state, for example, that the renter must let the landlord know if the property will be empty for longer than three weeks. This is to allow the landlord to take appropriate action to secure their property and add appropriate insurance products.  

However, if the tenant has abandoned the property, along with their rent payment responsibilities, then they will be in breach of their tenancy agreement.  

If a landlord has reason to believe the property has been left empty for longer than the agreed period, they may wish to begin the process of reclaiming possession from the tenant.  

However, regardless of how long the property is empty – and even if it is agreed with the landlord in advance – it is still important to get unoccupied landlord insurance to protect against the additional risks associated with not having a tenant in situ.  

what to do if a tenant abandons your property

If you believe a tenant has abandoned your property, it’s important to take the right steps to resolve the situation. Simply entering the property without warning, with the intent of reclaiming and renting to a new tenant, can land hasty landlords in hot water.  

This step-by-step guide will help you follow the necessary legal processes and make sure you don’t leave yourself open to counter-action by the tenant.  

step one: monitor the property  

If your rental property is left empty at any time, it’s important you monitor it as closely as possible – particularly during the winter.   

No matter what time of year your property is abandoned, it will always be at risk from squatters – particularly if the last tenants did not take care to properly secure the building as they left.  

This may also be the appropriate time to issue an abandonment notice, informing the tenant of your suspicion and intention to investigate further. If the property hasn’t been abandoned, the tenant should immediately get in contact, and if they don’t, it gives the landlord extra evidence during legal proceedings.   

If you wish to perform an inspection of the property, note that landlords are required to provide tenants with at least 24 hours’ notice before entering the property. You must provide written notice before entering the property either through email, text message, or on paper.  

The tenancy agreement should specify how much notice the landlord must give the tenant, as well as when and how often the landlord can visit.  

If the tenant does not agree to the visit, it is illegal for the landlord to enter the property, except in the case of an emergency or threat to health and safety, such as fire in the property, structural damage requiring urgent attention, or suspicion of a criminal incident.   

During cold weather, your property is at increased risk of freezing pipes, so provided you have given all the necessary notice as explained above, you should consider draining down your plumbing when it’s empty during a cold spell. 

As soon as you become aware your property is empty, you are likely to be required to inform your landlord insurance provider of the situation. Landlord insurance is often affected if your property is unoccupied.  

step two: dealing with possessions and pets  

When a tenant abandons a property, it is common for them to also leave behind their possessions – sometimes even pets.   

Unfortunately, landlords have a legal duty of care to protect possessions that are left behind, even where the tenant has abandoned the property in arrears or after causing damage.   

And as leaving property behind can be a sign that the tenant intends to return, landlords also have to be careful not to breach the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.  

step three: seek legal advice  

You should always seek legal advice if you believe your property has been abandoned. And the best way to keep yourself legally protected is by obtaining a Possession Order.   

Look for signs of abandonment, including mail piling up, curtains continuously drawn and empty parking places.   

Knowing the neighbours can also help in a situation like this, as you can get better information and could have abandonment reported to you much sooner. When you talk to neighbours, try to establish when the tenants were last spotted and whether they gave any indication of whether they were coming back.  

Take neighbours’ names and ask if they would be willing to provide a statement if required (although this does not necessarily mean that they will, so legal advice will need to be taken in these circumstances).  

step four: entering the property   

If you decide you have reasonable grounds to enter the property, ensure you have provided your tenant with proper notice as per the tenancy agreement, before entering. When you do enter, do so carefully and with impartial witnesses where possible.   

If you find the place is, in fact, occupied, be prepared to leave quickly and hope your tenants understand that you were entering because you feared for their safety.  

Always knock first before entering. Do not enter if you haven’t given notice. Never force entry, only use your spare keys and, if you find your way barred, you should refer the matter to the police or courts.   

Once inside, you need to establish the property has been abandoned beyond all reasonable doubt. Because an agent is required to report abandonment to the landlord without delay, agents providing a full management service need to be especially vigilant to protect their own interests.  

step five: update your insurance

Once you have confirmation the property is unoccupied, it’s time to update your landlord house insurance.  

Unoccupied properties are more susceptible to break-ins, vandalism, degradation, fire, and many more potential hazards – as there is nobody there to spot the early signs.  

For example, you’d call the police if you suspected a break-in. Or an emergency plumber if you noticed a burst pipe. But with no one in situ, these risks can turn costly.  

Home insurance policies can be invalidated if the property is found to have been long-term unoccupied at the time of an incident, so it’s important to update your provider. Consider Unoccupied landlord insurance while your property is empty.  

recovering lost rent

If your tenant has abandoned a property without notice, you could find yourself going months without receiving owed rent payments. And you may be wondering how to recoup your losses.  

Firstly, if rent payments haven’t stopped, this could make it more challenging for landlords – as it indicates the tenant may not have abandoned the property. If this is the case, you should follow the steps listed earlier in this guide to investigate whether or not the property really is empty.  

If rent payments have stopped, landlords can explore a few options to make up for their owed funds.  

It may be possible to recoup some or all of the lost rent through the tenant deposit, or even to pursue legal action if it is possible to track down the missing tenant. However, it is crucial to proceed with caution and not take any steps without seeking legal advice at every turn.  

landlord insurance from homeprotect

Has a tenant abandoned your property? Worried about the safety of your home while it’s empty?  

Homeprotect offers unoccupied landlord insurance whilst your property is empty and until you have a tenant in situ.  

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Your Questions Answered

Yes, it is possible for a landlord to legally end a tenancy due to abandonment, however, it is by no means a quick or simple process. To do so legally, landlords must first follow – and clearly document – a set of steps for investigating the abandonment and contacting the tenant.  

They must also provide appropriate notice before reclaiming the property or terminating the lease.  

If rent payments continue to be made by the tenant during this process, it can be even more difficult for landlords.  

 If planning to end tenancy due to abandonment, we suggest you seek legal advice. The NRLA talks more about this process here.  

Do you have more questions about your rights and insurance considerations as a landlord? Check out our comprehensive Landlord FAQ hub for more information!  

An abandonment notice is a letter sent by landlords to tenants, stating their belief that a property has been left empty without notice and in violation of their tenancy agreement.   

It typically acts as a first step by landlords to find out if the property really is abandoned and announce their intention to take legal steps to reclaim the property. It will also include details of any consequences if the tenant does not respond or return to the property by a specified deadline.  

Even if a landlord believes their property has been abandoned, the tenant still has legal possession until otherwise agreed by the tenant or legal authorities. So, landlords cannot simply enter the property on suspicion.  

However, it is possible for landlords to eventually gain legal access to the property by following the appropriate channels, for example, issuing an abandonment notice or obtaining a court order.  

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