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The Tenant Does a Bunk!

What shall I do if my tenant runs off?

Don’t worry;  tenant dissapearance is not a regular occurrence for landlords.  In all my years of being a landlord it has only happened to me twice, and even then it was partly my fault. This was because it turned out the tenant had a history of County Court Judgements against them and I’d failed to pick this up, because I didn’t carry out the appropriate tenant credit checks.  Let this be a lesson to all you landlords!

A tenant that disappears normally does so because they are in arrears with rental payments.  Therefore, when a tenant stops paying their rent, I’m half expecting they might disappear.  As I have already mentioned, one of the vital bits of information that a landlord needs when taking legal action to recover a debt, is the person’s residential address.  This allows the requisite notices to be served, during the course of the proceedings.  Of course, many debtors, particularly serial ones, are all too aware of this, which is precisely why they just ‘disappear’.

How does a landlord trace tenants to recover their debt?

There are several routes that a landlord can go down in trying to locate their tenants.  Firstly, there is the professional route.  There are numerous agencies that specialise in tracing debtors for landlords.  Simply enter ‘debt trace’ or a variant expression into Google and you will get a host of companies specialising in this activity.  Rates are normally between £40-50 and the good thing is that many of them charge on a ‘no find no fee basis’.

Alternatively, a landlord can do the work themself.

The process of being an amateur sleuth can be quite exciting for landlords.  What a landlord is trying to establish to enable them to take proceedings against them is:

  • A residential address
  • Are they employed you can get a attachment of earnings order

So how does a landlord find a missing tenant?

The best way for a landlord to start is to gather all the information they have on the tenant: their name, date of birth, employer.  If a landlord has been having problems with rental payments, hopefully the landlord will have already started to find out as much about them already.

Once the landlord has discovered that they have gone, visit the rental property and see if there are any remaining details or post that might give the landlord some clues as to the missing tenant’s whereabouts.  Ask the neighbours.  Contact employers or any associates to see if you can glean any additional information, such as are they still employed?  It may well be that a landlord gets lucky, with somebody giving them information.  More likely, they will ‘play dumb’, or refuse to answer on the grounds of contravening the Data Protection Act.

It’s a frustrating process for a landlord, because they know these organisations have the information on file that would allow the landlord to take action against these ‘criminals’.  After all that is what they are; they have stolen the landklords money. They have taken a service from a landlord without paying.  A landlord should not feel sorry for them as they hunt them down and try and bring them to justice.

If a landlord  has gone as far as they can with the information you can find through traditional means.  It’s now time for a landlord to carry on your search in the world of Cyberspace. Landlords may not be aware of just how much personal information is posted on the Web.  For instance the popularity of Facebook means that if the landlord has a name they will probably be able to find out about this persons background and possibly even their current living arrangements.

In addition, every household is required by law to complete an annual Electoral Register form which provides an up to date list of all householders over the age of 18.  This information is available free from your local council, or landlords can go online and do a search using no more than an individual’s name.  For as little as £5 using a website landlords can find the registered address of any UK citizen.  Obviously, not all individuals register, particularly if they don’t wish to be traced by their landlord.  Also because it is only carried out once a year if the person has recently moved, it will probably wont pick up their new address.

Credit referencing agencies such as Experian or Equifax hold huge amounts of personal data including details from the Electoral Register with which to assess an individual’s credit risk.  These companies therefore hold information relating to what credit an individual has applied for and most importantly, where these people live.  This information can be assessed directly or through third parties such as tenant referencing agents.  Either way the information is out there but landlords will have to be careful that they do not fall foul of the data protection laws.  Happy hunting landlords!

My experience has shown that whilst it is possible to find out details about your tenant, it’s the all important new address that is normally illusive.   The process is, like many other landlord activities, time consuming.   Using a professional tracing company give landlords access to sources that are not available to you as an individual.  The £40-50 fee can be deducted from the tenants deposit monies by a landlord, but only if provided for by the Agreement.   In my view given the time saving benefit for the landlord and the fact they only pay if they can trace the tenant anyway its money well spent.

At the end of all this detective work what a landlord  really wants is the tenants home address and to
establish if they are employed and where.  This should be enough to enable a landlord to obtain a court judgement against them to repay the debt along with an attachment to earning order that ensures that debt is repaid directly from their salary.  If they are not working then unless a landlord is confident that they have sufficient assets to repay the debt they are probably best writing it off.

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