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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Abandonment of property

Advice for landlords in Northern Ireland

This page is for landlords operating in Northern Ireland.  You can find advice for tenants elsewhere on our website. Private landlords in Northern Ireland can call Landlord Advice on 028 9024 5640 and choose option 1. 

Act carefully if you think your tenant has moved out without telling you. 

The tenant could sue you if

  • you get rid of any items they've left behind, or
  • you change the locks or move new tenants in without a court order.

Signs that the tenant may have moved out

Your tenants should usually tell you if they are going to move out. They may not have to tell you if they are moving out at the end of their tenancy terms. 

You may think that your tenants have left without telling you, if

  • their rent payments stop, or
  • another landlord asks you for a reference, or
  • your tenant stops replying to you, or
  • the tenant sends the keys back to you or an agent, or
  • you travel past the property and it seems to be empty.

Contact the tenant, or the tenant's guarantor, if you think they have moved out without telling you. 

Suspecting that a tenant has abandoned the rental property

Contact the tenant, or guarantor, to find out what has happened. Explain that

  • you want to inspect the property and
  • you need a reply within 5 days.

Visiting the property

You can visit the property if the tenant does not reply, but you cannot let yourself in. While you are there, you should

  • call the tenant to explain why you are outside
  • check for signs of disturbance in case the tenant needs help
  • ask neighbours if they have seen your tenant or any signs that the tenant is still living there.

Bring a letter with you and put this in the letterbox. The letter should explain that 

  • you are going to do a property inspection on a set date,
  • you want the tenant to contact you to confirm they've received the letter, and
  • the tenant remains legally responsible for paying rent until the tenancy ends.

Contact your local council's environmental health department if the tenant does not reply. 

Contacting the council if your tenant has moved out

The council deals with complaints about harassment and illegal eviction. They can prosecute you if the tenant complains that you've evicted them without going to court. You may be able to defend yourself if you can prove that you had reason to believe the tenant had moved out.

Contact council officers before you enter the property or take any action to secure the property. Explain your reasons for suspecting the tenant has moved on.  Ask that the council keep a record of your query. 

Changing the locks and reletting the property

You should not do this, unless the tenant agrees to give up the tenancy in writing.  

The proper way to end this tenancy is to issue a notice to quit and then apply for a court order. This can take several months. 

There is a risk that the tenant, or the council, will take you to court if you end the tenancy without a court order. 

Dealing with items left behind by a tenant

You have a responsibility to store any items the tenant leaves in the property. You can charge the tenant for this storage. 

The tenant can sue you if you dispose of their items. 

You should

  • make a list of the items left behind, including a description of their condition
  • send a copy of the list to all addresses you have for the tenant, and any guarantor
  • explain that the tenant has an obligation to collect these items
  • explain that the tenant has to pay the costs for storing these items
  • ask the tenant to confirm in writing if they want you to dispose of the items.

It may be best to have a solicitor help you prepare this letter. The Law Society of NI has a database of solicitors who work in Northern Ireland. 

Need help solving a problem?

You should always get advice if you are having problems with a tenancy. You can contact Landlord Advice for advice on your rights. Housing Rights can also provide a mediation service if you and your tenant are having problems and need an independent person to help resolve these.