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Recovering Rent Arrears: A Landlord's Guide to Recouping Lost Rent When a Tenant Leaves Early or Abandons the Property

As a landlord, few things are more frustrating than a tenant who ends their tenancy early or outright abandons the property while still owing rent. Unfortunately, this does happen. When a tenant leaves your property with rent still unpaid, there are steps you can take as a landlord to recover these rent arrears. This guide examines landlord options in England and Wales.

Can a Tenant End Their Tenancy Early?

If a tenant requests to end their tenancy agreement early, it is ultimately the landlord's decision whether to allow this or hold them to the full contracted term. Reasons like a family emergency may sway a landlord to terminate early as a goodwill gesture. However, legally the tenant must continue paying rent until the tenancy officially ends, unless the landlord agrees otherwise.

Landlords also have the option to include an early termination clause stating the tenant forfeits their full security deposit if they move out early. But this must be agreed upon in the original tenancy agreement. It cannot be added after the fact.

Once the property is re-let to new tenants, the previous tenant's obligation to pay further rent ends. But the landlord can still take steps to recover any rent arrears accumulated up to that point.

Withholding Rent and Deposits to Recover Arrears

If a tenant vacates the property while still owing rent, the landlord is entitled to deduct unpaid rent from their security deposit to settle the arrears. However, problems arise when the unpaid rent exceeds the full deposit amount.

In these cases, the landlord may pursue the tenant through the small claims court (value up to £10,000), for the remaining sum of rent they owe once the deposit has been applied. The court can award damages against the tenant if the landlord provides sufficient evidence of the tenant's rental debt.

In addition to rent arrears, there may be property damage/cleaning costs to take into consideration.

Pursuing Former Tenants Through the Courts

Before initiating legal action, the landlord should first confirm the tenant has officially moved out of the property. If there is uncertainty, the landlord will need to obtain a court order for possession to legally evict the tenant.

Once a tenant has clearly vacated, the landlord can file a breach of contract claim through the small claims court to pursue rent arrears, up to a limit of £10,000. Documenting the timeline of events and all attempts to collect unpaid rent from the tenant is critical.

If the tenant fails to respond or settle the claim, the landlord can request the court to enter a default judgment and ruling in the landlord's favour. A County Court Judgment (CCJ) formally obligates the tenant to repay the sum which can then be enforced through means like bailiffs or an attachment of earnings order. However, even with a CCJ, full rent recovery is not guaranteed.

Ending Tenancy During a Section 21 Notice Period

If a tenant vacates before their Section 21 notice period expires, they remain under contract and are still liable to pay rent for the remainder of the notice period. The landlord retains the right to pursue repayment of these rent arrears.

Get Legal Assistance With Rent Arrears Recovery

Recovering unpaid rent from former tenants is often complex for landlords to handle on their own. With extensive experience in landlord-tenant disputes, I can manage the entire rent arrears recovery process for you. This will improve the likelihood of you recouping money owed by departed tenants. Contact me today on 07587 653098 or via my online form to discuss your situation.