Notice of Abandoned Property

Last Updated: January 25, 2023 by Robert Bailey

A Notice of Abandoned Property is a formal letter from a landlord to a tenant that the landlord has sufficient proof to determine that the rental property has been abandoned. The letter also addresses how the landlord will handle any personal property left behind.

How to Prove an Abandoned Property

Before sending this letter to the tenant, a landlord should have proof that the tenant abandoned the rental property. While it may take more than one form of proof, here are some ways a landlord can prove that a tenant abandoned their rental property:

  • Personal Observations – The landlord has made personal observations of the property’s abandonment. For instance, during a landlord inspection or repair, a landlord may observe signs that point to an abandoned property. This may include missing essential items from the rental such as a couch or bed.
  • The Tenant is not Responsive – Before sending this final letter a landlord should try their best to get in touch with the tenant. If a landlord attempts to communicate with the tenant several times and in different ways without a response, this is likely further evidence that the tenant has abandoned the property.
  • Nonpayment of Rent – If a tenant abruptly stops making their rent payments and is not responsive to late payment notices, this may be another sign that the tenant is no longer living at the property.
  • Information from Other Tenants – Other tenants may have information to further prove that the tenant has abandoned the property.
  • Talk to Emergency Contact – Most rental applications require the applicant to provide an emergency contact. A landlord may be able to get a better understanding of where the tenant is and whether they have any intention of returning to the rental property by talking to the emergency contact.
  • Decreased Utilities – If the landlord pays for specific utility bills, they may observe a noticeable decrease in price. While the decreased use may be for other reasons, it may also be more proof that the tenant is no longer living at the property.

Landlords must document every step taken to determine that a tenant has abandoned the property. This may include recorded conversations, photographs, and the landlord’s rent ledger. They may need this information later to prove abandonment if there is a legal dispute.

How to Write a Notice of Abandoned Property

Use this letter when a tenant abandons a rental property or when their lease term ends but they have left personal property behind. When preparing this letter, it is important to tailor the letter to the specific situation. Generally, this letter should include the following:

  1. Date
  2. Tenant’s name
  3. Tenant’s address
  4. Professional greeting to the tenant
  5. Introduction with a statement of the efforts made by the landlord to contact the tenant
  6. The rental property address that is the subject of this letter
  7. The date upon which the landlord determined the property was abandoned
  8. The date the landlord entered the abandoned property and took inventory of any items left behind
  9. The next section provides space for the landlord to list the specific items the tenant left behind. This can be almost anything. Some examples include clothes, appliances, jewelry, and even a car
  10. The consequences for failing to timely respond to the letter
  11. Professional closing with an offer to contact the landlord with any questions or concerns
  12. Landlord contact information
  13. Landlord’s signature
  14. Landlord’s name

Make sure the letter is professional and to the point. While there may be other issues to address, this letter is to put the tenant on notice about the abandoned rental property. Any other issues, such as damages, security deposit, or outstanding rent payments, can be dealt with separately.

How to Send a Notice of Abandoned Property

In this situation, the landlord may not know the tenant’s current location. If the landlord does not know their current address they should send the letter to the rental address and may even want to send it to their last known address.

The letter should require signature confirmation to document its receipt. This can be accomplished by certified mail. Even better if the landlord sends it by restricted certified mail which requires the addressee to be the only person that can sign for the letter. The landlord should keep a copy of this letter filed with a notation of the letter’s delivery method and any other relevant information.

Why Send a Notice of Abandoned Property?

One may think if a tenant has abandoned a rental property, why even bother with sending this letter? There are a few reasons why a landlord would want to send this type of letter. Those include:

  • Returning the Tenant’s Property – Ultimately, a landlord should hope to return any personal property to the tenant. This is the most clean-cut result and one that will allow the landlord to focus on more important issues in dealing with a tenant that abandons a rental property.
  • Secure a New Tenant – It’s in the landlord’s best interest to have the rental property producing income. For that reason, a landlord is going to want to secure a new tenant as quickly as possible. Sending this letter is an important piece of documentation to show that the landlord performed their due diligence in confirming that the former tenant has abandoned the property.
  • Avoid a Lawsuit – If a tenant finds out that their landlord has sold or otherwise disposed of their personal property they may be upset. They may even decide to sue their landlord for the loss of the property. Having this letter, along with any previous communications, strengthens the landlord’s determination about the abandoned property. It also establishes a specific date for the property’s abandonment.
  • Legal Requirement – In some states, it is a legal requirement to send this type of letter before doing anything with property left at a rental property.

If the tenant has abandoned the property before their lease term ends this is not the only action the landlord will need to take. The landlord will also have to formally end the tenancy by going through the eviction process.

What Should a Landlord do with Abandoned Property?

Some states have legal requirements for handling abandoned property. Generally, after any state-required waiting period, the landlord is usually free to do what they want with the property. The landlord may store or dispose of the property and can even sell items if they choose. Depending on the state, proceeds may be used to pay the tenant’s outstanding obligations and even be kept in their entirety in certain situations.

If a landlord plans to proceed with disposing of abandoned property, it is recommended that they contact an experienced real estate attorney. Premature disposal of a tenant’s property may lead to an unnecessary lawsuit.