What does vacant possession mean?

If you are buying or selling a property, you might have come across the term ‘vacant possession’ as you start that journey. Whether a property is being sold with or without vacant possession it will have implications for the buyer. So, it’s important to know exactly what it means and how it affects you as buyer or seller of the property. Thankfully, this guide will be covering this topic in detail, to give you a greater insight into exactly what you can expect with vacant possession.

What is vacant possession?

When a property is sold with vacant possession it essentially means that the building has to be completely empty on the completion date. This means that anyone who is living in the house whether they are the current owners or renting tenants needs to have moved out by that date with no belongings left behind, apart from anything that was agreed in the terms of the sale. There aren’t any strict legalities involved when it comes to vacant possession in the property market, homes can be sold either with or without it depending on the circumstances.

Residential properties that are sold without vacant possession typically will have a tenant in situ. In these cases, during the residential conveyancing process and drawing up the contracts, any tenancy agreement must be included in this paperwork. This is because the buyer will need to know who the tenant is that is living there and the terms of their agreement.

Buying or selling without vacant possession

Property sales with tenants in situ are very common, particularly with landlords who rent properties as a business. The process of the sale doesn’t differ too much from a normal house sale except for the inclusion of the tenancy agreement mentioned above. As long as the buyer is happy with the agreement details provided by the seller, the sale will go ahead as normal.

The buyer will simply take over the landlord role for the property in the existing tenancy agreement. However, it can be beneficial to have the documents changed and signed again with your name by both parties. If you’re a buyer and it is your first time buying a property with a tenant in situ, your conveyancer will be able to provide you with information and guidance around buying a property with tenants. This will help you become fully aware of the terms and implications involved before you commit to the purchase.

The process when selling with vacant possession

If you’re selling a property with the agreement of vacant possession, whoever is living there at the time, whether that is you or renting tenants, must have fully moved out with all belongings by the day of completion. Once the contracts have been exchanged, you will have a legal, contractual obligation to make sure that the house is empty and ready for the buyer at the agreed time in the contract on completion day.

The only items that should be left in the property are any furniture, appliances, or anything else that was agreed with the buyer in the contracts. Failing to ensure everything has been vacated or if there is any rubbish or unexpected objects that stop the buyer from being able to move into the property straight away, could mean you are breaching the contract terms and the buyer has the right to make a legal claim against you.

This is less of a concern if you, the seller, are living in the property as the obligation is on you so you can make sure that you leave the house as it should be for the buyer. However, if you have tenants, you have less control over them moving out. If they are unhappy with the situation they might try to delay moving and stay till after the time they are meant to.

Or they could leave behind a lot of mess or rubbish that will delay completion and potentially result in a frustrated buyer making a claim. So, if you have tenants staying in the property it is often best to ask them to leave before the exchange of contracts happens. This will avoid any rushing around trying to clean up anything the tenants have left behind or damage caused to the property. Even though you might lose some rental income if the property is sitting empty, the cost would likely be higher if you exchange contracts with tenants in the property that don’t move out on time.

The process when buying with vacant possession

From the other perspective, if you’re buying a property with vacant possession, the seller has agreed with you to have everything removed by the date of completion. If they are waiting on the sale to go through because they are purchasing another property in a chain, it could be that they can’t move out before completion. Between the time of exchanging contracts and completion, there is normally around a week or two.

Even if you don’t plan on moving into the property straight away or at all once you have bought it, it is a good idea to check that it has been fully vacated on completion as agreed with the seller. If the property has renting tenants living in it and not the property owners, they might refuse to leave if they are unhappy with their tenancy agreement being ended. In this situation, if you’re concerned, speak to your conveyancer before exchanging contracts. It could be that you can agree with the owner for them to ensure the house is vacated before exchange for extra peace of mind.


No matter if a sale has vacant possession or not, if you need help with property conveyancing in Cramlington, contact the team at Toomey Legal today. Our expert conveyancers can help to ensure your property buying or selling journey goes as efficiently and quickly as possible without delays. Contact us today to learn more and ask any questions.