My Tenants Have Done A Midnight Flit – Landlords Log 13

My Tenants Have Done A Midnight Flit – Landlords Log 13

8:45 AM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago 25

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I would very much appreciate your feedback on this video blog and my confessions article below it.

I spent my Sunday afternoon visiting a property where my tenants had moved out without giving notice. They had never been good payers but I had been working to help them get their finances in order. At one point they were two months in arrears but managed to get their rent arrears back down to just one month.

I have a little motto, “I might tolerate slow pay but can’t or wont pay = no way!”

I guess their financial pressures got to be too much for them and they moved out last week without giving notice or a forwarding address. To their credit, they did send a short note explaining they had moved out and enclosed the keys. This has saved me thousands in terms of rental voids and legal costs that would otherwise have been associated with the legal process to recover possession if they had not surrendered the property by handing back the keys with a note.

In these circumstances tenants tend to move out late at night to avoid the shame of the neighbours. I suspect this is what happened here. This is what’s called a midnight flit, the legal terminology is abandonment.

The natural human reaction to things that don’t go to plan is: 1) Surprise, 2) Panic, 3) Blame.

Whenever I’m in a situation like this I try not to get caught up in these negative emotions. I prefer to re-frame them as life experiences and ask myself “what can I do to minimise the chances of this happening again”.

I’m not going to beat myself up too much, however, I already knew the answers as this is not a first. I should have taken a guarantor but I chose not to as these tenants couldn’t find one. At the time I let the property the rental market wasn’t as strong as it is now so I wasn’t spoiled for choice with good tenant applicants. I also felt a bit sorry for these guys so heart won over head. To make it worse I’d not followed my strategy of meeting the tenants in their former home. Had I done so I might have seen that cleanliness was not one of their virtues.

I suppose I can be a bit philosophical about this because I have not spent a single penny of my £70 a month maintenance and refurbishment budget on this property since they moved in two years ago. It could be argued that I shouldn’t need to spend anywhere near as much as I will now if my tenants had respected the property a bit more and reported little problems as they occurred. The flip side of that of course is that I should have been a bit more proactive before the tenancy commenced and during it. Perhaps I should have taken the trouble to visit them when they got into arrears? I can of course make excuses, the property is about an hours drive from my home and the tenants were in arrears so I might have been treading a fine line in terms of harassment if I’d have insisted on meeting them at their home to discuss rent arrears as well as inspecting the property. The bottom line though is that excuses might get you off the hook but they don’t necessarily get results. Lessons learned!

The one remaining question is “will I be able to get the property back to lettable condition and cover the cost of the rental void within my budget of £1,680.”

Only time will tell on that score. I will of course post further updates in the coming weeks.

Mark Alexander
Mark and his family have been investing in property since 1989, initially in the Norwich area but more recently across the length and breadth of England. Mark created as a social network for landlords with a vision of becoming the UK’s largest online property investor directory.
Mark’s experiences and strategies as a landlord are shared here

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Mary Latham

11:00 AM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago

In a perfect world the tenant would have at least cleaned the house but apart from that most of the damage is cosmetic and a lick of paint, new floor covering and a good clean will sort it out. I would just put it right and move on - shame about the rent loss though that always makes me cross - but this tenant probably has no assets and therefore is not worth chasing.

I am sure that you will let Landlord Referencing know about him especially since you had the good sense to take his NI number and date of birth - so many landlords forget this and it is vital information.

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

11:06 AM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago

Hi Mary

I can't let LRS or TenantID have the details as I had not covered my back on DPA and permissions to disclose such info adequately at that time. I do now though.

Jack Phillips

11:25 AM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago

This question is via @avlocksmiths on twitter "if tenants do 'flit' wud you advise changing locks? Local landlord here didn't and tenant stole decorators paint!"

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

11:39 AM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago

@avloacks - we ALWAYS change the locks on tenant changeover for security purposes. We keep a supply of mortice locks, Yale locks etc. and just move them around. Very good point, thank you for raising it.

Mary Latham

11:57 AM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago

The landlord needs to be clear that he has possession before he changes locks and that the tenant will not return and claim illegal eviction. This is why I always tell landlords to serve a section 21 notice on every tenant 3 months before the end of the fixed term or first 6 month period.

Tenant have been successful in taking legal action against a landlord where an S21 has not been served. One tenant, who was in prison for life, used legal aid and cost the landlord £35k for illegal eviction about 5 years ago.

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

12:07 PM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago

Hi Mary

Are you suggesting that it could be argued that this tenancy had not been surrendered and that I have posession under this particular set of circumstances then?

Mary Latham

12:14 PM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago

Mark Have you got a document from the tenant - even an email - that says that he is moving out? Or did you serve an S21? If not it is not safe to assume that you have legal possession. Some landlords use what are called Abandonment Notices but these have no legal status.

What to do next? Serve a Section 21 at the address. Get an independant witness statement to prove service. Wait until the notice expires. Alternatively, if you are confident that the tenant is not entrapping you, change the locks and relet.

This is one of the many pot holes in the road of landlords.

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

12:19 PM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago

Hi Mary

I thought I'd made it very clear in the video that the tenant had written to me and enclosed the keys. Obviously that wasn't clear enough.

If I hadn't received the letter from the tenant I would of course be in a very different position right now, as explained in the written element of the blog.

Mary Latham

13:21 PM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago

Yes you did Mark I was making this point because the issue of changing locks came up and many landlords do not have written evidence from tenants who just "flit"

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

13:28 PM, 24th October 2011, About 12 years ago

It's a very good point Mary, thank you for making it.

Guess what tomorrows video blog will be about?

I love these Q&A's as they provide a constant flow of new ideas for my video blogs. Over time a video wiki for landlords will exist to answer all of the most commonly asked questions and mistakes. I'm beginning to think I've found my calling.

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