Sometimes tenants leave a property without giving notice. When this happens the tenancy is considered to be abandoned.

What landlords should do if they think their tenant has abandoned

If a landlord thinks their tenant has abandoned the tenancy, they should contact the tenant. If the tenant hasn’t, they’ll appreciate the landlord checking before taking any other steps.

If the landlord can contact them, the landlord should ask the tenant to confirm in writing that they’re returning possession of the property to the landlord. Once the landlord has this confirmation, they can go into the property immediately.

The landlord should also try to arrange for the tenant to return the keys.

If the landlord can't contact the tenant

If the landlord can’t contact the tenant, they need to be sure the tenancy really is abandoned. They can consider the tenancy abandoned if both these things are true:

  1. The rent is overdue. It’s not enough that the rent isn’t in advance as much as they should be.
  2. There are reasonable grounds to think that the tenants have left and aren’t coming back.

The law sets out a process for dealing with abandoned properties

Normally the landlord wants to get into the property as soon as possible to re-let it. Although this is understandable, the law sets out processes that must be followed to protect both the tenant and the landlord.

If the tenancy is in a boarding house, there are different rules if you think the tenant has abandoned their room.

Abandoning a tenancy is unlawful

It is an unlawful act for a tenant to abandon a tenancy without reasonable excuse. The Tenancy Tribunal could order a tenant who abandons to pay the landlord damages of up to $1,000 and compensation.

Breaches of the Act has more on unlawful acts.

There are two ways to have the tenancy ended by the Tenancy Tribunal

The landlord will need to decide which of the following types of application is best for them.

Expedited Abandonment Application

This process enables the Tenancy Tribunal to return possession of a property to the landlord within 10 working days without the need for a mediation or Tenancy Tribunal hearing if certain requirements are met.

The landlord will have to provide a copy of the tenancy agreement, a rent summary showing the tenant is in arrears, a valid email contact address for the tenant and sufficient evidence that the property is abandoned.

The tenant will then be contacted and will have one working day to contest the application. If the tenant does not respond, an Order returning possession of the property to the landlord may be issued.

If the tenant does not accept that the tenancy has been abandoned, the Tribunal is not satisfied that the tenant does not want to dispute the matter, or the Adjudicator does not think there is enough evidence, a Tenancy Tribunal hearing will be scheduled and the parties will be told where the hearing is and when it will take place. If this happens the application may take longer than 10 workings days.

This process doesn’t allow for landlords to claim the bond, or costs such as rent arrears and damages. This would need to be done through a further application.

Standard Tenancy Tribunal Application

If a landlord wants to apply for a possession order, but cannot provide a valid email contact address for the tenant, the landlord will need to submit a standard application to the Tenancy Tribunal. This process requires a Tenancy Tribunal hearing. Landlords should also use a standard application if they:

  • cannot provide sufficient evidence for a Tenancy Adjudicator to determine if the property is abandoned, or
  • want to apply for more than just a possession order, such as rent arrears, costs for damage, or the bond.

Landlords must give notice before entering the house

If a landlord is concerned the property may have been abandoned they can visit the property and knock on the door, look around the outside and speak with neighbours to get a better idea about the situation.

Before the landlord can enter the house to inspect it they must give notice, even if the tenant’s no longer living there. 

If the landlord has reasonable cause to believe the tenant has abandoned the property and the rent is 14 days in arrears or more, the landlord can give 24 hours’ notice, plus the appropriate service time to enter the property to confirm the tenant has abandoned the property.

Otherwise the landlord must give 48 hours’ notice, plus the appropriate service time before entering the house for the purpose of a property inspection.

After the service time and notice period expires the landlord can enter the house, inspect it and secure it.

A landlord’s right to enter the house is strictly limited under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. The Tenancy Tribunal could order a landlord who enters the house with 24 hours’ notice when they actually had no reasonable cause to believe the tenant had abandoned the premises to pay the tenant damages of up to $1,000 for the unlawful entry and up to a further $2,000 for the breach of the tenants quiet enjoyment. 

How to apply

Once a landlord’s sure the tenancy is abandoned, they should apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to have the tenancy ended and possession returned to them. 

The Ministry recommends landlords use the Expedited Abandonment Application in the first instance to reduce the time the property remains abandoned. The landlord can then file a Standard Application for any outstanding claims once the tenancy has been ended and they have possession returned to them.  

You must complete all parts of the application form and attach any required documents. If you do not provide all required information we may not accept your application or your application may be delayed.

If the tenant has left abandoned goods at the property

Abandoned goods has information about the process a landlord has to follow when dealing with goods the tenant’s left behind.