How to spot an abandoned property 

Landlords will often undertake Estate Walkarounds to identify any potential housing management issues.  One of the issues which may come to light during a walkaround could be an abandoned property.  The property might appear abandoned, or a resident may raise concerns about not having seen someone for a while.

Social Landlords must have a clear procedure in place for abandonment. It is important that a thorough investigation is undertaken into a suspected abandoned property.  If the locks are changed prematurely and the property cleared of any remaining belongings a social landlord may be faced with a claim for unlawful eviction and or a claim for damages for the belongings which have been disposed of.

The following should be considered during any investigation into the abandonment:

  1. Property inspections – visit at different times over a number of different days. Look for mail piled up being the door, whether there is rubbish in the bin, whether the garden is overgrown, are there any windows open, are there any signs of life.

  1. Take photographs of both the inside and outside of the Property if possible- you should keep a record of the dates the photos were taken.

  1. Speak to the neighbours – check when the tenant was last seen, whether they have noticed anyone else at the Property.

  1. If you can gain access to the property, check the contents of the rooms, the fridge, the cupboards, bins for any sign that someone has been there recently – take photos and document contents.Record your entry with body cam footage or by recording on another device.

  1. If you can access utility information does the usage suggest that someone is occupying the Property?

  1. If the Property has fob access check the fob activity – when was it last used?

  1. Attempt to contact the tenant by phone, text, email, letter, contact the next of kin.

  1. Check your records – when did the tenant last contact your organisation? Is there any information on your records which would explain the possible abandonment?

  1. Serve a Notice to Quit at the Property and ask the tenant to contact urgently if they are still in occupation.

It is important for a Social Landlord to retain clear records and the evidence of the investigation undertaken. If the tenant returns after the Property has been cleared and re-let, your organisation will need to prove that it was reasonable to conclude that the tenant was no longer occupying the Property as their only or principle home in order to be able to defend any possible legal action.

If still unsure whether the Property has been abandoned your organisation should apply to the court for a Possession Order before the locks are changed.

For more information and legal advice on suspected abandoned properties please contact Amy Tagoe, Senior Associate Solicitor.

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