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Abandoning a tenancy

Your landlord can end your tenancy if they believe that you have left your home (or abandoned your tenancy) without telling them. Find out what your landlord has to do before they can end your tenancy and what to do if you are still living at home and your landlord is mistaken. If your landlord is trying to end your tenancy for any other reason they must use eviction proceedings, which are different.

I received an abandonment notice, what should I do?

Get in touch with your landlord immediately. You need to write to them within four weeks of receiving the abandonment notice. You can contact them by phone or in person but you must follow up any contact you have in writing.

I am still living there and do not want to leave

Let your landlord know that you are still living in the property and do not want to leave.

I am away from home temporarily but intend to return

Let your landlord know the reason that you are staying away and that you intend to return. You could be away from home because:

  • you are in hospital
  • your job requires you to go away for long periods
  • you need to go away to care for someone or be cared for
  • you are in prison.

If you let your landlord know that you have a genuine reason for being away from home but that you do intend to return, abandonment proceedings will be stopped.

Remember that you will have to pay rent while you are away. In certain circumstances, housing benefit will pay rent for a home that you are not staying in. Find out more about housing benefit when you are away from home.

If your landlord does not believe your reasons for being away from home and thinks that you have set up your main home somewhere else, they can then use eviction proceedings to get the property back. The case would have to go to court and the sheriff would have to see evidence that you have a main home somewhere else. See grounds for eviction.

I have moved out and I do not intend to return

Contact your landlord and let them know you do not want to return. You may be asked to give four weeks' notice in writing before your tenancy can be ended and you may be held responsible for the rent until that date. If you cannot afford to pay the rent, you may be able to make an arrangement to pay it back in small amounts over time. See 'If I abandon my tenancy what will happen to me?' below for why it is a good idea to leave your home on good terms with your old landlord.

My landlord has taken my home but I hadn't abandoned the tenancy

If your landlord has taken your home back you have six months to complain to the sheriff court. These six months start from the date the notice was served stating that the tenancy had ended.

You may not be able to move back into your home if it has been rented to someone else, but you may be offered an alternative home if your landlord did not follow the abandonment procedure properly or you had a good reason for not responding to the abandonment notice within the four weeks (for example, because you were ill).

Abandoning a tenancy - how can my landlord end my tenancy?

If your landlord wants to end your tenancy because they think you are no longer living in your home without telling them and you do not intend to return to live there, they must send you a written notice, called an abandonment notice, telling you that they think you have abandoned the property. This should be sent to your last known address. The notice must give you at least four weeks to let your landlord know that you are still living there, or that you are staying away temporarily but intend to return.

During the four week notice period, your landlord must make inquiries to find out if you have left the property. For example your landlord can:

  • ask your neighbours if they have seen you recently
  • contact your family to see if they know where you are
  • check with your employer that you are still working in the area
  • check that your children are still registered at the same school.

If, at the end of the four weeks' notice you have not contacted your landlord, and your landlord has finished carrying out their own inquiries, you can be served with another notice stating that your tenancy has been ended.

What happens once the tenancy has been ended after I've abandoned it?

Your landlord can enter your home and change the locks. If your landlord does not have a set of keys, they can get a locksmith to help them get in.

What will happen to my possessions?

You can collect your belongings at any time before the end of your tenancy.

You should also be able to collect your belongings from your landlord up to six months after your tenancy has ended. However, if storage costs come to more than the total value of your belongings it is unlikely that your landlord will keep them for you. If the value of your belongings is more than your storage costs, your landlord must keep them for you for six months, but you may be asked to pay the storage costs.

In practice, it's likely that your landlord won't store your belongings for you, even if they are worth the storage costs. 

At the end of six months your landlord can sell or dispose of your belongings.

If I abandon my tenancy what will happen to me?

If you abandon your tenancy you may have difficulty getting:

  • help from the council if you become homeless as a result
  • a new home if your old landlord is asked to provide a reference
  • credit, if your landlord passes any housing debt such as rent arrears to a credit collection agency.

If you have to leave your home, try to let your landlord know to avoid difficulties in the future. If you have fled your home because you were facing violence or abuse, this should be taken into account when you are trying to find a new home and not be counted against you.

Joint tenant has abandoned the property

If your landlord believes that a joint tenant has left the property and no longer intends to live there, they can serve that tenant with a notice stating that:

  • the landlord believes that the joint tenant has left the property and doesn't intend to live there in the future
  • the joint tenant must let the landlord know within four weeks if they do intend to live there
  • the joint tenant's part of the tenancy will be terminated at the end of four weeks if the landlord hasn't heard from them.

However, unlike a sole tenant, a joint tenant must be given a further eight weeks' notice after the final notice is served before their tenancy comes to an end. In addition, a copy of the notice must be sent to all other joint tenants. If you are sharing and a joint tenant's interest in a tenancy is repossessed, this does not affect the rights of other joint tenants. You can carry on living there as normal.

The landlord ended a joint tenant's tenancy when they haven't left or abandoned the property

If the landlord ends a joint tenant's tenancy using abandonment proceedings, the joint tenant has eight weeks to complain to the sheriff court.

The joint tenant may not be able to move back into their home if their room has been rented to someone else, but they may be offered an alternative tenancy if the landlord did not follow the abandonment procedure properly or the joint tenant had a good reason for not responding to the abandonment notice within the eight weeks (for example, because they were ill).

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The important points

  • If a landlord believes you have left your tenancy without telling them they can start abandonment proceedings to get the property back.
  • The first step for your landlord would be to send you an abandonment notice giving you four weeks to let them know that you are still living there or intend to return.
  • If you have not contacted your landlord in the four weeks after the abandonment notice, your landlord can end your tenancy with another notice, enter your home and change the locks.
  • If your landlord has taken your home back you have six months to complain to the sheriff court. These six months start from the date the notice was served stating that the tenancy had ended.

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