An abandonment clause is a statement in a residential lease agreement that highlights the appropriate legal actions in the event that a tenant abandons their property before the end of their lease term.
Sample Abandonment Clause
Below is an example of an abandonment clause that could be incorporated into a residential lease agreement:
If the Tenant(s) has vacated or abandoned the Premises for a minimum of ____ days, the Landlord may, after providing ____ days’ notice to the tenant, secure the Premises with new locks, store, sell, or dispose of any personal property left on the Premises by the Tenant(s) or Tenant(s)’s Guests, and re-assign the Premises to new Tenants for use. Any such abandoned personal property shall be stored and disposed of by the Landlord as provided by law. The Landlord, with reasonable discretion in accordance with applicable law, will determine when the Premises are abandoned, which may take into consideration any one of the following: the removal of personal property from the space other than in the usual course of continuing use, the failure to pay rent or other fees, discontinuance of utilities, and failure to respond to any notices, phone calls, or correspondence from the Landlord or their representatives.
Why Include an Abandonment Clause in a Residential Lease Agreement?
Landlords often include this clause for legal and financial protection in case a tenant decides to leave their property and stop paying rent before the lease ends. Tenant abandonments create significant financial strain for the landlord, and a clearly written abandonment clause will help minimize these scenarios.
How to Tell if a Tenant Has Abandoned Their Rental Property
Before proceeding with legal action, landlords should confirm that the tenant has abandoned their property. Some common signs of tenant abandonment are as follows:
- Missed rent payments
- Furniture or other belongings have been moved out
- Accumulation of mail
- Their utilities have been shut off
- The tenant is not responding to messages or phone calls
What to Do if a Tenant Abandons Their Property
If a landlord suspects that a tenant has abandoned the property, there are a few steps they should take before pursuing legal action:
- Check state and local laws – Tenant abandonment laws vary by state, and landlords should be aware of the legal requirements in their area before moving forward.
- Call emergency contacts – Contacting the tenant’s emergency contacts may provide clarity on the tenant’s whereabouts.
- Talk to neighbors – Ask other tenants or close neighbors if they have seen the tenant or noticed them moving out.
- Check utilities – Check if the tenant’s utilities have been shut off.
If tenant abandonment has been confirmed, the landlord should proceed with the following actions:
- Deliver a notice to the tenant – A notice of abandoned property should be sent to the tenant (through certified mail) to any of the tenant’s known addresses. This will protect the landlord from an unlawful eviction.
- Take inventory of the tenant’s belongings – Make a list and take photos of all of the tenant’s belongings that are currently in the rental unit.
- Keep a record of phone conversations – Landlords should document any phone conversations concerning the tenant and record them if possible.
- Document rent payments – Landlords should keep a record of past rent payments, or rent ledgers, as well as any attempts to contact the tenant.
If the landlord still cannot get in contact with the tenant, they will need to set up a hearing with the local court—which will then determine if the lease can be terminated. Once the landlord is able to terminate the lease, they can move forward with changing locks, cleaning, and renting the property to new tenants.
How Long Before a Property Is Considered Abandoned?
The exact timeline is dependent on state and local laws, but it is typically between 15-30 days.
In Chicago, if a tenant is absent from the property for 32 days without paying rent or communicating with the landlord, the property will be considered abandoned. However, if a tenant is temporarily absent and is up to date on rent payments, it will not qualify as abandonment.
What to Do if a Tenant Leaves Behind Their Personal Belongings
In many states (such as Texas), tenants have a window of time to claim their belongings (e.g., 30 days). If the tenant does not claim their items in time, the landlord may store, sell, or dispose of their belongings. However, other states (such as New York) have stricter regulations, and landlords cannot sell or dispose of a tenant’s belongings unless the tenant has clearly expressed their intention of abandonment.
Can a Landlord Keep the Funds From Selling a Tenant’s Belongings?
Depending on the circumstances, the landlord may be able to sell the tenant’s items and put the money towards the tenant’s remaining financial obligations (such as unpaid rent). However, in most cases, any leftover funds must be returned to the tenant. If the tenant has left an abandoned vehicle on the property, it must be reported to the police.
What to Include in an Abandonment Clause
Landlords should include the following information in an abandonment clause:
- Number of days that constitute an abandonment
- A specified window of time for the tenant to respond to the landlord’s notice and claim their belongings
- What will happen to the tenants belongs if not claimed
- Landlord’s right to enter the property after providing notice
- Any additional terms or conditions depending on state and local law
As stated above, abandonment laws vary by jurisdiction. Some states have strict regulations, while others are dependent on the terms of the lease agreement. Landlords should thoroughly research state and local guidelines before creating their agreement.