Abandonment of Rental Property by Tenants

By E-Renter Tenant Screening
Posted on February 1, 2011 under Landlord Tips | icon: commentBe the First to Comment

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Abandonment is a tricky situation for landlords. It may seem pretty straightforward that abandonment has occurred when a tenant moves furniture and other possessions out of a rental property, hasn’t been seen by the neighbors in a several weeks, and doesn’t return messages—but the law may see it differently.

It’s best to check with a lawyer for the specific laws in your state. But when can a landlord consider a rental unit abandoned, and therefore prepare it to be leased to a new tenant?

Laws vary by state and locality, but here are some general guidelines for landlords:

  • A unit could be considered abandoned when the tenant owes rent and has left evidence of abandonment, such as removing furniture and clothing, along with personal care and other items. Again, it depends on the state.
  • If the tenant’s rent is current, the unit is not usually considered abandoned, even if the furniture and other possessions have been removed,. You do not want to rent the unit to another tenant, only to see the original tenant return. Wait until the end of the rental period that has been paid before attempting to turn over the unit.
  • Cumulative signs, such as a tenant informing the landlord or neighbors that they planned to leave, along with a large amount of uncollected mail, removing all the furniture, and turning off the utilities, could be considered evidence of abandonment.
  • Most landlords know to make reasonable efforts to contact the tenant. Telephone calls and emails may be the first methods, but it’s always a good idea to send a certified letter. Make sure to keep copies of letters and notes regarding dates and times of calls and emails.
  • If the tenant appears to be gone and didn’t turn in the keys to the rental unit, don’t automatically change the locks. Again, you must first determine whether abandonment has occurred under the laws of your state.
  • Tenant property is another area protected by the law. Don’t dispose of a tenant’s property, even if it appears they abandoned it, without checking your local and state laws. Some states allow 30 days for the tenant to claim the property; others allow six months.

It may not seem fair that when abandonment by a tenant occurs, the landlord is responsible for cleaning up the rental unit, gathering all the left-behind property and storing it for the tenant. Fair or not, it’s often the case—and just another part of being a rental property owner!

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