For most people, it can be hard to imagine packing up, leaving, and never coming back to claim the property you left behind. In the rental business, however, tenant-abandoned property is a more common occurrence than you might imagine.
There are two primary types of property abandonment that you might be concerned about as a landlord.
First, you need to know what to do if a tenant abandons your rental property. Landlords made aware of an abandoned property might want to re-rent it immediately, but there are actually some things that you must do first. If you don’t, you could face legal trouble.
Second, you need to know what to do if a tenant abandons their personal property after moving out. While it can be tempting to just throw it all away, there are actually rules in place about how you must handle these items.
It’s key that you know what to do in both of these situations. Today’s guide will cover those issues in greater detail.
A Table Of Contents About Tenant Abandoned Property
- What Happens When: Tenant Abandons A Rental Property
- What Happens When: Tenant Leaves Their Personal Belongings
- Research Your Local Laws
- Tenant-Abandoned Property FAQs
Working through what to do with a property when a tenant has abandoned it can be difficult. Here are some steps to take to make sure you handle things as efficiently and professionally as possible.
Make Sure They Really Are Gone
The very first thing that you need to do is to be sure the tenant has actually abandoned the property. Even if a tenant hasn’t been home for a few days or weeks, you cannot be certain that they have abandoned the property. There may be another explanation.
If They’re Still Paying Rent…
If the tenant is still paying rent, the property is not abandoned. In this scenario, take the time to contact your tenant and talk to them about the situation. Tenants who plan to be away for an extended period of time should allow you to check the property every week to ensure nothing is wrong there.
If they are not paying rent and haven’t been at the property in weeks, it is more likely that this is a case of tenant abandonment.
Talk To Emergency Contacts
Another way to find out if the tenant has moved on is to contact the emergency contacts from the tenant’s rental application. They may know more or be able to get in contact with the tenant to determine if they have moved out.
Talk To The Neighbors
If the property has neighbors who might have noticed something, find out if they saw the tenant moving out.
Check The Utilities
Give your tenant notice that you will inspect the property. If they don’t return your notice, check the utilities. If they are turned off, you could be dealing with tenant abandonment.
Document Your Investigation
Throughout your investigation of whether or not the tenant has moved out, make sure that you are documenting every step. You will need evidence of the abandonment later on, so it’s best to do this as you research.
1. Official Notice
The first thing that you want to do is to send your tenant an official notice. Give the tenant 10 days to contact you to let you know if they have abandoned the property or if they will be returning. If you don’t hear back in 10 days, the property will be declared abandoned.
When you send this notice, it’s best to use certified mail so that you can prove it was delivered.
Take photos to show why you think the property is abandoned. These photos might be of overgrown grass, empty rooms, or something else that indicates they’ve moved out.
3. Rent Documentation
Put together a list of the rent, when it was last paid, and when you tried to contact the tenant to resolve rent issues.
4. Record Conversations
If you contact the tenant’s emergency contacts or neighbors, be sure to record these conversations as proof.
Terminate The Lease
If the tenant will not get back to you to confirm if they have moved out or not, but you are sure the property is abandoned, you will want to take a legal avenue to declare the tenancy over.
Essentially, you will need to file an eviction lawsuit with your local court. The exact procedure for this in the case of an abandoned property will vary from state to state, but the general proceedings will follow that of an eviction case.
Prepare Your Lease For The Future
To make this situation easier to handle in the future, it’s worth it to take time to ensure that your lease includes specific terms about abandonment and what will be done in cases of potential property abandonment.
Leaving a property empty can be dangerous for a number of reasons, so it is reasonable to include a clause in your lease that protects your property from becoming vacant.
One simple way to ensure that your property is protected is to add an Extended Absence clause to your lease. This clause can simply state that the landlord may enter and inspect the premises if tenants are absent for periods of seven days or longer, to ensure the property is safe.
Another common situation that can happen in conjunction with an abandoned property or just when a tenant moves out is when a tenant leaves behind personal belongings. What should you do as a landlord when this happens?
Every state has specific rules about this that you should review, but the general procedure will go something like this.
Assess Why The Tenant Left
The first thing that you should do is analyze why your tenant left. Typically, you will have to handle the belongings in different ways depending on the reasoning behind why the tenant has left the property.
Such situations might be:
- Tenant left at end of the lease or after sending notice that they are leaving
- Tenant was evicted and left their belongings behind after being forced to leave
- Tenant disappears or abandons the property
- Tenant is in jail
In each of these situations, there are going to be specific guidelines in your state that say what you need to do with those belongings.
Store Before Selling
It can be tempting to just remove all of the belongings and immediately dispose of them. Unfortunately, this is not something that landlords will be able to do right away.
In most situations, the landlord will be responsible for storing the belongings for a specific number of days. After attempting to contact the tenant about the belongings and waiting the required number of days, you can then move forward with selling or disposing of the items.
Even if you sell the tenant’s belongings, there may be specific rules about what you can and cannot do with these funds.
As you can see, the rules about getting rid of these belongings can be quite complex. If you are in a situation where a tenant has left their belongings behind, be sure that you bring up that section of your state’s laws to review before taking any actions.
Let’s work through an example using Pennsylvania’s state laws, so that you can see what kind of information you need to know before handling abandoned personal belongings.
In Pennsylvania, tenants are supposed to take all of their personal property from the rental property whenever they move out at the end of the tenancy period. If they do not, what is a landlord supposed to do?
If the tenant has left belongings behind at the end of their tenancy, the landlord needs to give 10 days’ notice to contact them about the belongings. If the tenant does not respond within 10 days, the landlord has a right to dispose of the property. If the tenant responds, they have up to 30 days to retrieve their belongings, and the landlord must store them until they do.
If the landlord sells the belongings rather than dispose of them after the allotted time has passed, they can only keep proceeds that cover any funds they are still owed by the tenant. This can include the cost of storage for the belongings that were left behind. All money that remains after paying off those obligations must be sent back to the tenant.
If the landlord cannot contact the tenant to return the funds and does not hear from them within 30 days of sale, they can then keep the proceeds.
There are two common exceptions to the rules about abandoned property:
- Fixtures: Any permanent fixtures installed at the property by the tenant, such as built-in shelves, can be considered part of the property. This language should be included in the lease.
- Vehicles: Abandoned vehicles should be reported to the police, and the police will handle the vehicle according to local ordinances.
As you can see, the laws about disposing of abandoned personal belongings can be quite complicated, and there are often layers to the rules. Make sure that you completely familiarize yourself with your local laws before taking action.
What Happens When A Tenant Abandons A Property?
When a tenant abandons a rental property, you will need to take some specific actions to regain full control of your property. After confirming that the property is abandoned and trying to contact the tenant, you will need to set up a hearing with the local court system if you cannot get confirmation from the tenant that they are not returning.
The court will determine if the tenancy period can be ended. Once you have a writ of possession, you can change the locks, clean out the property, and move forward with your rental.
For a more complete look at what to do in this situation, visit the top of this article.
What Happens When Tenants Move Out And Leave Belongings?
When a tenant moves out and leaves belongings behind, it is your responsibility as the landlord to store those items and contact the tenant to find out if they want to collect them.
While you can charge the tenant for the costs associated with removing the items and storing them, the specifics of how this must be done and how long you must keep the items vary depending on local laws.
How Long Before Something Is Considered Abandoned?
In the case of a rental property, the property must remain unoccupied without any rental payment for at least 15 days depending on the state laws. The specifics of how the abandoned property must be handled vary on a state-by-state basis as well.
In the case of abandoned personal property, it can be considered abandoned as soon as it is left behind by a tenant. However, that does not mean that it can be immediately disposed of. The property must be handled as the law requires.
How Long Must A Landlord Keep Abandoned Property?
The rules that govern how long a landlord must keep abandoned property left behind by tenants varies by state. In some states, a landlord can dispose of items in as few as seven days if they have notified the tenant of what has been left behind. In other states, the landlord must store the belongings for 30 days before they can take any action.
What Are Renters Responsible For When They Move Out?
When tenants move out of a property, they are expected to leave it in the same condition that it was when they moved in. Of course, there are allowances for normal wear-and-tear to the property, but otherwise the unit should be as it was.
Renters should remove all of their belongings and do a deep cleaning of the apartment. Some lease agreements may require that this include carpet cleaning, but that is not strictly required.
To ensure that your tenant does everything they should, it can be helpful to include a move-out checklist example in the original lease agreement, and then give the tenant another copy when it is almost time for them to move out.
What If A Tenant Abandons My Property?
The rules surrounding the ownership of rental property and a tenant’s belongings can seem overly complex at times. However, the rules are in place to ensure that property of all types is reasonably protected from harm in difficult situations.
When you are dealing with tenant-abandoned property, be sure to:
- Document every action you take
- Try to contact the tenant and their emergency contacts ASAP
- Ensure you are following all local laws regarding the property
As long as you follow the outline set forth by the law, you’ll be able to safely regain control of your property and remove any belongings left behind. From there, you can continue your rental business as intended.