Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Abandonment problem

Its tough on landlords. They provide the property, for which they are normally still making mortgage and other payments, and they are responsible for its upkeep and maintenance (for which they can be sued if they fail to comply), but what can they do if the tenant fails to keep his part of the bargain and pay rent? The answer is, incur lawyers fees for proceedings for possession and wait several months for the court case to be concluded, while the rent arrears mount up and up. Nice for the lawyers of course, but a bit unfair on the landlord.

Of course it is even more frustrating if you think that the tenant may actually have gone. But if the keys have not been returned and at least some of the tenants possessions are still in the property, you cannot count on this. If the landlord goes in and changes the locks when the tenant has not really left, then not only is he liable for prosecution, but also the tenant can sue him for unlawful eviction. And claim compensation. A nice way to wipe out those rent arrears.

I mention all this because I was discussing this very problem with one of my clients this morning. Sadly (for him that is) the keys have not been returned and the tenants still have clothes and other stuff inside. We decided that it was really too risky for him to even consider going in, so I have now drafted up the paperwork for the court claim and we will be issuing shortly. But its such a waste if the tenant really has gone after all. Not only of my clients time and money, a property left vacant when someone else could be living there (he has tenants waiting to go in), but also a waste of court time which could probably be better used for something else.

The Law Commission have been reviewing housing law generally, and I understand that it is planned to bring in a new procedure to cover cases of abandonment, similar to that currently used in Scotland. But the promised reforms are taking a long time (the Law Commission were due to bring out a final report and draft bill last summer) and in the meantime landlords are faced with a choice between bringing time consuming court proceedings or risk being sued for unlawful eviction.

Still, looking on the bright side, its all more work for me.

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