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Pursuit of rent arrears scuppered by "unlawful eviction"?

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I'd be grateful for some advice. Our tenant recently abandoned a property owing a substantial sum in rent arrears while we were in the process of getting a possession order (subsequently granted). He had removed all his possessions (we inspected internally, having given due notice, and found several weeks' mail, free newspapers and a set of keys on the doormat), changed the utilities back to our names (before he actually left) and had told us that he planned to leave. He never told us formally in writing that he had left though in accordance with the terms of the contract. To secure the property, we changed the locks and left a note in the window inviting the tenant to phone us should he need access. But we did nothing further until bailiffs had formally attended to return the property to us as the RLA advised that was the only way to avoid risk of a future claim for unlawful eviction. With all that done and the property relet to new tenants, we sought the help of our insurers to prepare a case to recover the debt. The insurer declined to assist because the tenant could bring a claim for unlawful eviction as a result of the fact that we changed the locks, and that meant that there was insufficient chance of success.

So to my question:

Have I scuppered myself by changing the locks, or is this one of the arguable cases (ie whether we had sufficient grounds for believing he had abandoned, and we would therefore win if he counter-claimed)? Do we still have a good chance of winning even if these points are argued by the tenant? What are the downsides of trying should we fail (ie would an adverse finding have longer-term implications for us)? I appreciate of course that no-one can give legal advice here; I'm just looking for advice from others with experience of similar cases. Many thanks.

31/12/2019 15:23

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