Are your tenants home or away?

Although your tenants aren’t obliged to keep you updated on their movements, it’s important for you to know if they’re going away for an extended period of time, as a vacant buy-to-let does have implications for you.

Firstly, there’s the matter of your landlord insurance. Your cover is likely to be affected and possibly the whole policy declared invalid if the property is unoccupied for more than 30 days. Commonly, you won’t be covered for:

  • Damage caused by escaped water
  • Riot
  • Theft

and your insurer is likely to require you to:

  • Turn off some services at the mains
  • Keep the property heated to a minimum temperature between autumn and spring
  • Inspect the property once a week
  • Keep the property secure.

So, if you don’t already know what your insurer’s policy is, contact them or the agent you insured through to find out.

Secondly, it’s simply not good for a property to stand empty. If your tenant is going away on holiday or a long work trip, it’s advisable to visit the property yourself or ask your agent to keep an eye on it to check they haven’t left any electrical items on and that the heating has been set according to the time of year – off in the summer and programmed to come on during colder periods. It’s especially important for the property to be checked if there’s a sudden cold snap, such as we had earlier this year with ‘the beast from the east’. If you think your tenant is there, you might simply wait for any issues to be reported and if they’ve gone away and not told you, pipes could be freezing and bursting and water getting in from other places. That could cause untold damage that’s only discovered when the tenant returns.

The other thing to be aware of – which is usually signposted by rent arrears – is that tenants sometimes abandon the property without telling anyone. If you or your agent are not on top of rent payments and don’t chase the tenant regularly, it could be some weeks before you realise they’ve left. So if you haven’t had any response from your agent/tenant for a couple of days, leave them a voicemail, text message and email to give them the required 24 hours’ notice that you’re going to visit the property.

If it looks as though they might have left, but you’re not sure because some of their possessions are still there, be aware that courts often see that as a demonstration that the tenant intends to return, so it’s important you don’t remove anything. Legally, because the tenant hasn’t surrendered the tenancy, you will need to obtain a possession order from the courts. If you were to remove possessions and try to re-let the property, the tenant could claim wrongful eviction and even sue you for damages! The best route in this case is to contact a legal lettings expert to advise you properly. 

Top tips to help ensure you know when your buy-to-let is empty

  • At the start of the tenancy, ensure your agent or you explain to your tenants why it’s important they tell you if they’re going to be away for more than a week.
  • Maintain a good line of communication with your tenants, or employ a qualified agent that will. It means they know you’re approachable and are keen to keep their home safe and secure.
  • Try to build a relationship with one or two of the neighbours and ask them to let you know right away if they have any issues or concerns about a tenancy, or if they suspect the property has been abandoned.
  • Address any late rent payments right away via your agent or by calling and emailing your tenant. If they don’t respond within a day or two, give them the notice required in the tenancy agreement that you intend to enter the property.

This information has been provided by our partner Mortgage Advice Bureau. For more information relating to Mortgages or for Mortgage Advice please visit Mortgage Advice Bureau.