What to Do When a Tenant Abandons a Property

Whether a tenant decides to leave in the middle of the night or leave in the middle of an eviction, an abandoned rental property can be a nuisance. Unfortunately, depending on the situation, you may be left cleaning up a tenant’s mess and disposing of their belongings. Make sure to pay close attention to your state laws and take the following into account.

Determining if the Property is Abandoned

The first thing you need to do if you think your rental property has been abandoned is determine if it is or not. Contacting your tenant (or attempting to) will help you figure this out. If you can, you should try to get a written confirmation from your tenant to prove that they have left the property and do not intend on coming back. Don’t change the locks until you are absolutely certain that the property is abandoned.

If the tenancy has ended, then the abandonment of the property may be considered as moving. In this case, you would be able to deem all property left behind as trash. If you aren’t sure, check your state’s laws before doing anything with the stuff left behind. Some places require landlords to keep the items and notify the tenant so that they may retrieve them.

If you aren’t able to contact the tenant and can’t decide whether or not the property is abandoned, you can enter the property but make sure to knock first. Also, keep these questions in mind:

  • Did the neighbors see them move?
  • Are the utilities shut off?
  • Did the tenant put in a change of address at the post office?
  • Is there any significant furniture left?
  • Are there sheets on the beds or food in the fridge (any signs that someone is still residing in the unit)?

Reasons Why the Tenant May Have Left

In lots of states, the way you can handle a tenant abandoning a rental depends on why they left. Here are some common reasons for a tenant’s departure:

  • The tenant decides to move out at the end of the lease without notifying you.
  • The tenant leaves after receiving a termination notice or warning.
  • The tenant is in jail.
  • The tenant has passed away.
  • The tenant was physically evicted/removed from the property with police intervention.
  • Usually, if a tenant leaves with a notice or warning, then state laws will allow maximum flexibility for you to dispose of their belongings.

Exceptions to the Rule

As mentioned previously, you should be careful about what you do with a tenant’s belongings after you think they have abandoned the unit. Most of the time, unless it’s obvious garbage, you may have to hold on to it. However, there are some items that do not fall into this category and you can do whatever you want with them.

These items include fixtures, such as built-in bookshelves or wall units, lighting, and other semi-permanent installations are considered the landlord’s property and do not have to be returned to the tenant. In addition to these “fixtures,” abandoned vehicles are also not accounted for in abandoned property laws. Oftentimes, a tenant will leave an old clunker in the driveway or garage when they leave. If this happens, contact the police and describe the car to them; they will arrange to have the car towed and removed from the premises.

In the odd event that the tenant claims the property was not abandoned and is still claiming tenancy, consider getting them out fast with any of the methods mentioned here.