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Joshua, Lawyer
Category: UK Property Law
Satisfied Customers: 25631
Experience:  LL.B (Hons), Higher Prof. Dip. Law & Practice
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Tennant has left property and refused to return keys. We knew

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Tennant has left property and refused to return keys. We knew that the place would be left in a disgusting state due to agents reports on inspections so we were given keys to inspect. Only rubbish left and a pile of shoes and cooker which had been disconnected. Gas, electric and water disconnected, the toilet had been used not sure for how long and the smell was overpowering. Housing benefit had notified the agents of end of tenancy and the fact that they were making last payment. Agents have provided a landlady who is willing to rent to them and they have moved down the road.
We did give them a section 21 which expired 15th September 2013 so they did have notice.
Can we change locks and take possession of the property?

Joshua :

Thanks for your question. Please kindly RATE my answer when you are satisfied

Joshua :

Have you had any confirmation from the tenant that they wished to surrender their tenancy please - e.g. a text or email?

Customer: they do not have a tenancy agreement it ended. A sect 21 as stated was issued and finished 15th Sept 2013. They have a new tenancy with another property down the road and they verbally told the agent they were vacating 18th oct
Joshua :

Thanks - from what you say they told the agents they were vacating however did they say they wished to end the tenancy or words to the effect? I will explain the reason I ask this in a moment with your permission...

Customer: If they were moving elsewhere they were on housing benefit and they can only have one tenancy. The tenancy was officially ended with sect 21
Joshua :

Thanks. The reason for my above questions is that as a landlord, you need to be very careful in how you proceed because a tenancy does not necesarily automatically end on expiry of a s21 notice if the tenant does not willingly give up possession. Evidence of return of keys is excellent evidence of surrender of tenancy but here you say they refuse to return them. Where a tenant refuses to give up possession a court order can be necessary to end the tenancy.

However the position here is a little different from what you say. Here the tenant has moved out and ceased living in the property as their principle residence. Accordingly if they do not wish to give up possession - we cannot be sure of this because they refuse to return their keys - then their rights are that of a contractual tenant after having moved to a different property which can be ended by a notice to quit. From what you say you have serve a s21 notice which operates a notice to quit and they have been moved out for over a month.

Joshua :

Accordingly providing you are certain that they have taken up a new tenancy elsewhere it is reasonably safe to claim that they have 1) given up possession of the property and 2) if they did not wish to give up possession despite having moved elsewhere, that their rights to the tenancy have ended by virtue of having given them reasonable notice to quit their contractual tenancy by virtue of the s21 notice. These arguments combined should be sufficient to defend against any potential action by the tenants against you for unlawful eviction which can be tried on by some wily tenants in this sort of situation.

Joshua :

If you wish to protect yourself yet further you can serve an abandonment notice through the letterbox giving notice that the locks will be changed within 5 working days and a number and address to contact you by however based on the above this should not be necessary. The safest approach to be 100% secure is to seek a court order for possession however many landlord will take a calculated risk in such situation because of the delay of obtaining a court order and take possession of an abandoned property without a court order and based on the above you would appear to have a sound defence against a claim under the Protection Against Eviction Act by the tenants as discussed above.

Joshua :

If you are content to proceed without a court order on that basis, based on the above it is not unreasonable for you to consider entering the property and changing the locks. If you conducted an inventory on check in you may consider a claim against the previous tenants or their deposit for the damage and poor cleaning at the property if you believe they may have any means to pay such a claim.

Customer: They have no utilities at all at the property there has been a history of rats, are you saying I can,t change the locks? I will not get the utilities re-instated without change of locks. As I have stated they have notified housing benefit and agent of their new rental and payment to us has now finished. They have been moving bit by bit but gave the final date of moving to the agent as the 18th october
Joshua :

Can you tell me exactly what they said in giving a final moving date of 18th Oct and who they told?

Customer: They told the agent they were moving out and housing benefit hence letter from housing benefit to agent saying payments ceased. Also the agent gave references to the new landlord who they knew, so they have definitely moved into their new letting.
Joshua :

OK it would be useful to obtain a statement from the agent in writing that this is what they were told. The reason for my words of caution is that there is a piece of legislation called the Protection Against Eviction Act which provides that it is a criminal offence to unlawfully evict a tenant and what the law and common sense consider an ended tenancy are not always the same thing. However based on what you say they have ceased to live at the property as their primary residence and you have given them reasonable notice to quit and they have not been living there for a month or more and accordingly there are strong defences available should the tenant attempt to try to claim damages from you for unlawful eviction under the above legislation. Whilst I cannot tell you the tenant would not try to attempt a claim if you change the locks, you would appear to have strong defences if they did. If you wish to play it 100% safe you can apply for a court order for possession but if you do not wish to wait the 2 months to obtain one and are happy to proceed on the above basis it is not unreasonable for you to enter the property and change the locks based on the above

Joshua :

Is there anything above I can clarify for you?

Customer: Thank you very much. The property is not in a habitable state, they have done thousands of pounds worth of damage which I have no chance of getting back. I do have pictures of pre-tenancy .
Joshua :

Ideally as a landlord you would need reference to a pre and post tenancy inventory to stand the best chance of making a case for a claim. Pictures can be useful either in support of an inventory or without an inventory (for some damage) providing you can show on the balance of probability the date the pictures were taken or at least that the reflected the property's state immediately prior to the tenants tenancy starting. Agents can sometime assist in this respect if there is no inventory.

Joshua :

The other problem with housing benefit tenants for landlords is that even where a landlord proves their claim which is often quite possible, the tenant rarely has significant means in order to meet the claim but that is not necessarily a reason not to pursue one in and of itself.

Joshua :

You may wish to check your insurance policy. Some landlord insurance policies have cover which can meet some post tenancy issues, but such covern is not common to basic policies.

Joshua :

Is there anything above I can clarify or assist you with any further?

Customer: No you have been very helpful
Customer: Regards
Joshua :

A pleasure. Best wishes for your recovery action if you choose to pursue it.

Joshua :

If you have no further questions for now I should be very grateful if you would kindly take a moment to rate my service to you today. Your feedback is important to me. If there is anything else I can help with please reply back to me though.

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