Tenant Abandonment Guide for Landlords

Rental turnover comes with the job of being a landlord, however, tenant abandonment is a rarer situation that landlords might have to deal with. Especially in the midst of a changing and socially distant world, people are moving out of cities or choosing to move back home which means tenant abandonment could be more likely. Just like with the eviction process, when it comes to tenants abandoning the rental property, you must follow the right protocol to protect yourself from possible liabilities – this includes following specific actions that are required by state and local laws. Keep reading to learn what to do when a tenant abandons the property.

What Does Tenant Abandonment Mean?

You might be wondering what tenant abandonment even means – tenant abandonment is when a renter has left without notice before the lease has ended. Often, this means they have left some of their belongings behind and are not paying rent. This can be a serious problem for a landlord as consistent rent payments are essential for their rental business. It’s important to specify tenant abandonment in your lease agreement and explain the process that will occur if a tenant abandons the property and how long they will have to reclaim belongs left behind. Why would a tenant abandon the property in the first place? There could be several different reasons including: 

  • They moved for a new job.
  • They can’t afford rent.
  • They are in hospital.
  • They had an emergency situation.

Even though you want to fill the abandoned property as fast as you can, you will still have to follow the proper tenant abandonment procedures.

How to Determine if a Property is Abandoned

The first step you should take when it comes to tenant abandonment is to confirm that it is in fact – abandoned. Your tenant could have left intending to come back, but not understanding the abandonment rules outlined in the lease agreement. Just because you noticed that they haven’t been home for a while doesn’t necessarily mean they have abandoned the property and you want to avoid any wrongful eviction claims. Understanding the clues that might tell you if it’s been abandoned is key. Here are four potential ways for you to tell if a tenant has abandoned the property:

1: Call their emergency contacts

This should be your first action to figure out if a tenant has abandoned the property especially if you are concerned for the tenant. Make sure you let them know the situation and the lease provisions  – hopefully, they will be able to contact the tenant and determine if they’ve moved out.

2: Is the tenant still paying rent?

Most likely, if your tenant is still paying rent then it is not abandoned – they may just be on vacation or an extended stay somewhere else. Contact the tenant to confirm what’s going on and let them know you might inspect the property every week just to make sure everything is okay and ensure it’s safe – maintaining open lines of communication with your tenants at all times can possibly help prevent situations like abandonment.

3: Check to see if the utilities are still on

Remember, to enter a property you usually need to give at least 24-hour notice, depending on your state. Once you do this and if you don’t hear back, enter the property and check to see if the water or heat has been turned off – if it is, this means the tenant did not pay their utility bill or shut them off.

4: Talk to other tenants or the neighbors

Sometimes talking to other residents or neighbors is an easy way to determine if the property has been abandoned – ask if they saw the tenant move out or if they’ve seen them come back to the property recently.

Steps to Take After You Determine It’s Abandoned 

Once you have determined the rental property has been abandoned by your tenant, there are a few essential steps you should take while always following the law as a landlord

  1. Check your local and state laws regarding tenant abandonment: There might be specific provisions in your region, especially regarding time limits, so it’s always important to review the process and know the legal requirements when it comes to handling the abandoned property.
  2. Take inventory and itemize the tenant’s property: You must make a list of all of the tenant’s belongings left behind. Furthermore, you should take pictures of every item as well – the more documentation, the better.
  3. Store the tenant’s property: Find a secure area, such as a storage unit, to hold the tenant’s abandoned property until the tenant can pick up their property or until the required time limit has passed.
  4. Send a letter to the tenant(s): Notify the tenants explaining to them how long they have to claim the property and who can claim the property. Make sure you specify the deadline, which can range from a week to 45 days, as well as the inventory list, the charge for storing the property, where the property is being stored, and what will happen if it remains unclaimed.  

Recovering your rental property from a tenant who has abandoned it is essential to continuing your rental business successfully – you still must always follow the law and correct way to do it – this will save you more time and money than a wrongful eviction lawsuit. Remember, including a tenant abandonment clause in the lease agreement will be a safeguard in case you ever find yourself in a tenant abandonment situation and always screen your tenants to protect yourself and your property from damages and inconvenient situations.

Tenant Abandonment FAQs

How long before you can take over a property?

You must first determine the property is abandoned and, once you do, you need to follow your state’s specific laws and timeline regarding tenant abandonment – some may require you to keep the property for 30 days, but you could still fill the property with a new tenant once the apartment has been cleared out.

What if a tenant wants to claim their property?

If a tenant contacts you after you have properly notified them with an itemized list, they can claim their property and pay the storage fees.

How is tenant abandonment different from evictions?

An eviction notice occurs when a tenant has violated the lease agreement – a tenant abandonment doesn’t necessarily mean there was a lease violation, but a tenant has left the property without giving notice to the landlord. In both scenarios, landlords have to follow the proper laws to ensure they do not get in any legal trouble. 

What should you do with the property once the deadline to claim it has passed?

Depending on the state, once the deadline has passed for a tenant to claim their property you can sell, donate, or throw away the leftover belongings. 

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