Eviction Questions: What To Do When Your Tenant Abandons The Property

Posted on: 11 May 2015

Figuring out how to handle an eviction is one of the hardest things that any landlord has to deal with, and if you rent out property for long enough, you'll eventually have to deal with it. There is a lot of advice out there for landlords who are dealing with tenants who just won't leave. But what do you do when the tenant packs up and abandons the property without a word? It's a more common occurrence than you might think. Many tenants choose to vacate the property overnight rather than fight an eviction, and they don't always clean up, return the keys, or even notify you when they do so. Here are a few tips for dealing with an abandoned property.

Confirm That It's Really Abandoned

It may seem like a safe assumption that tenants who are suddenly missing after receiving a pay or quit notice have abandoned the property, but that's not always the case. You may be in a hurry to clean out the rental unit and put it back on the market, but you still have to ensure that you're following legal procedures when it comes to changing the locks and removing your tenants' possessions. It's illegal to lock out a tenant without following the proper procedures, and you can end up facing fines and penalties – or even a lawsuit – that will cost you more than waiting for the eviction proceeding to work its way through the court.

How can you tell if your tenants are really gone? If the utilities are off, that's a good sign, but not definitive – if your tenants were behind on paying the rent, there's a good chance they were behind on utilities too, so the power could just be off for non-payment. Check with the post office to see whether a change of address has been filed for your tenants. Ask the neighbors if they've seen a moving truck, or other signs that your tenants were on their way out. Call the emergency contacts listed on your tenants' lease to see if they have any answers.

Don't Throw Away Abandoned Possessions

The things your tenant leaves behind can also help you decide whether or not the place is really abandoned. If you find electronics, clothes, and valuable items, then it's very possible that your tenants have not formally vacated the property (though they may be avoiding you). On the other hand, if what's left is mostly garbage and any valuables that were there are gone, it's much more likely that they've abandoned the place.                                                                                   

Even if you can confirm the place is abandoned, you probably can't just throw away everything that was left behind. In most states – except for Colorado – you have a duty to store the tenant's property for at least a short time. Only three states allow you to move a tenant's possessions to the curb or sidewalk. Most states require you to attempt to notify the tenant before selling or disposing of their property, either by mail or personal delivery or, in the case of Kansas, by publication of a notice in the local paper. Be certain that you're following the laws in your area, or you may be held responsible for compensating your tenants for any improperly disposed of items.

Document Everything

The best thing that you can do throughout this process is document everything that you do. If you arrive at the property and find nothing but bags of garbage left behind, take pictures of them that you can show the court if your tenants later try to claim that you removed their valuables or personal possessions improperly. If the neighbors tell you that they saw your tenants loading up a moving truck, get the details, including the day and time of day, and get the contact information of the person you spoke to. If your tenants' emergency contact gives you a new address for your tenants so that you can send them a notice, send the notice by certified mail and save a copy of the letter for your records.

The goal is to make sure that, in the event that the tenant claims they were wrongfully locked out or their possessions were disposed of improperly, you can show that you made every attempt to confirm that the rental unit and possessions were abandoned.

If you're unsure about how to handle an eviction or an abandoned property, you may want to consider hiring a property management company that provides eviction services. That way, you can be certain that the people handling your property know and follow the local laws, and you won't have to all of the legwork yourself.


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