Your Tenant Left You High and Dry (the Horror!) Here Are Your Next Steps…

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It is the end of the month and you are going through your rent collections and notice one is missing.  “That’s odd,” you think to yourself.  That particular tenant is never later plus I just spoke to her a couple of weeks ago and all seemed well.

You wait another day or so to see if the rent comes in.  You receive nothing.  You try to text.  You try to call.  There is no answer or the phone is no longer in service.  You drop by the property and knock at the door.  No one answers.  You come back the next day and knock again.  Again, there is no answer.  You see one of the building’s other tenants and you ask about the missing tenant.  “Oh, they moved out a week ago, I thought you knew!”

Your Tenant Has Abandoned You…Now What?

The unfortunate bottom line is this: It happens.  If you are a landlord and it hasn’t happened to you yet, it is likely that you will eventually experience a tenant that abandons you.  What should you do next?  Legally, what can you do next?

What you can and should do next is going to be detailed by your state’s landlord/tenant law.  Since I am familiar with how things go in Tennessee, I will give you a quick synopsis of that process.  Your state may be similar, or it may be completely different.  Please get to know your local laws.

Your First Concern…

First and foremost, you need to protect your assets.  Did they potentially leave any hazardous conditions when they left?  Is the heat still on in the dead of winter?  Did they take their pets with them (you never know!)?  After figuring out that your tenant has abandoned you,  and after having tried numerous times to contact your tenant, you are probably ok and go in and check on your property.

However, you need to be careful when doing this. Legally, you do not have possession of the property, your tenant still does.  Yes, your other tenant says they have moved out, but perhaps they are only in the process of moving.  They could be on their way back for the rest of their stuff and to give you notice.  So, proceed with caution.  Take a witness with you as you enter and go through the property.  Better yet, video record your inspection on your smart phone in case something does come up.

For the sake of this article though, let’s say you go in and it is obvious your tenant has left.  All of the electronics and more expensive items are gone.  There is a piece of furniture here and there but nothing of value.  Now what?  You’ve  got options but you still need to proceed with caution…

Related: What to Do When a Tenant Just Leaves Your House

3 Ways to Regain Possession of Your Unit

You, as the landlord have to regain possession of the apartment from your tenant.  That can only happen in three ways:

  1. You get a release of the rights of possession from the tenant.
  2. You evict the tenant
  3. You follow the rules for abandonment in you local state statute.

In reality, the first option can’t happen. If that tenant has abandoned you, there’s no way you’ll find them to sign a release. The second option of eviction tends to be too expensive and very time consuming. If you’re looking for the “best route,” I would suggest the third option listed, which is simply following the rules of abandonment in your local state statute.  While this can be time consuming, it is really your best bet.

Basically, as the landlord, you have to wait almost a month before you can get your unit back.  Under Tennessee law, if the rent payment is 15 days late and you suspect abandonment, you have to post a notice on the property and send the same notice to the tenant’s last known address stating that you intend to take repossession in 10 days.  The notice should also state that you will remove any remaining items left in the unit at that time.

If you do not hear from the tenant within that 10 day period you can enter the unit and remove anything that remains.  You now have possession of the property again and can re-rent it.  You can’t, however, throw the stuff you took out away.  You have to store it for thirty days.  After those thirty days, if your tenant does not claim it, you can dispose of it however you wish.  If you can sell the stuff, good for you, but in my experience you are just going to be left with junk.  I often donate the stuff, like clothes, dishes or small pieces of furniture to local charities.

While time consuming, the process to reclaim your property after a tenant abandons it is generally going to be less expensive and take less time than an eviction.

Conclusion

Whatever you do, be sure that you follow your local statutes.  You do not want to be accused of stealing grandma’s precious diamond wedding ring which was “hidden” in that junky couch.  If you do things the wrong way you just may be liable for that ring.  So, be careful.  Know and follow your specific laws when it comes to abandonment.

What are your thoughts? Does anyone have a good abandonment story? Let’s discuss in the comments…

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About Author

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.

22 Comments

  1. Is there such a thing of a good abandonment story? I will give it a shot.

    We had some section 8 tenants who we thought abandoned a property. All their stuff was still there, but the back window was busted out and the power had been turned off. Being the middle of summer, we just figured they disappeared because no one can live in a house with no power, no AC in August. We went through the process and right before we were about to legally enter, they called us and asked if we could fill out their section 8 paperwork so that they can get another house. I handled the call and flat out told them No, but then came back and told them if and only if they clean out the entire house, go to Dollar General and buy cleaning supplies, that I would sign the section 8 form so they can do trash someone else’s house. They agreed and when my Project Manager went to check it out, to no surprise, they did not clean up. Also to no surprise, they have an excuse of why they did not. The tenants show up 5 deep in my office and brought some 400 lbs lady and told us they had to care of this lady and that her health did not allow her to go back in a house without AC. Bottom line, I did not sign the section 8 letter and the 400 lbs lady broke down crying that she had no place to go. My answer was simple, “you do, the home with your lease is the place you have to go.” Yada Yada Yada, the other 4 started acting out and the police arrived to defuse the situation. They never went back and we got the house, but through eviction.

  2. Interesting story. I knew a guy that rented a house years ago and tore out the wood subfloors so he could grow weed. He had 1,000 watt Halide lights and was stealing power to run these energy sucking lights. He actually got robbed by armed intruders. He just took his grow equipment and left… Leaving the landlord to deal with the mess.
    It would be a great read if someone would put all these renter horror stories in a book.

    • Kevin Perk

      Randy,

      Oddly enough, you are the first one I have heard such a story from. Sounds like that landlord should have checked on things every once in a while.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  3. @randy phillips

    Good story and evidence that anything can happen when you own rentals. Knock on wood, none of my own rentals have been turned into a drug manufacture, but I did have a tenant “stripping her way through college” move out and leave behind a bag full of adult toys…..pretty much had to use a shovel to get to the garbage can.

  4. Fortunately no abandonment stories here! Still new to the rental industry. I really appreciate your tip about knowing the law for your specific state. Having the knowledge before you need it can help avoid a situation that could create liability for you.

    • Kevin Perk

      Vernie,

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I am happy to help. Knowing your local landlord/tenant laws is very important in this business. As not knowing them can set you back weeks and cost you thousands.

      Again thanks and I appreciate the kind words,

      Kevin

  5. Sara Cunningham on

    We’ve had a couple of tenants disappear. From the same duplex too. Maybe that’s a sign we need to offload it. However the other side of the duplex has had the same tenant for 5 years so we haven’t given up yet. The first tenant that disappeared was because some ex boyfriend had come around and fired bullets into the house and they were scared for their life’s. We caught up with them moving out of the rest of their furniture and were able to get them to release it back to us. The next time it happened our handyman had been at the other side of the duplex and noticed that the tenant appeared to be gone. He notified our property management company who again were able to apprehend him as he was clearing out his last few things. In both cases we had security deposits that they obviously didn’t get back so no real harm done except we had to clean repair and get new tenants which took about 3 months each time. Maybe that duplex is going to be for sale sometime soon. Any takers.

    • Kevin Perk

      Sara,

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      What is it with some properties? They just seemed to be cursed. Cursed or not, I am sure someone at BiggerPockets would just love your duplex! For the right price that is. :)

      Thanks again,

      Kevin

    • Kevin Perk

      Frank,

      Yes it is, but even when doing one you still never know. Some people can however get themselves into some really weird/bad situations and decide to just go! Even the best background check will not catch everything. So landlords need to know what to do if the situation arises.

      Thanks for reading and for the kind words,

      Kevin

  6. For those of us who have had ‘horror’ stories about when tenants simply picked up and left, we hopefully learned from those individual situations and hopefully became more vigilant property owners as a result.

    On another note, I would like to hear from experienced landlords who have had the problem of tenants moving in people not on the lease. Almost every single tenant of mine in the last 10 years has done this!

    I’d like to think that I do a very thorough job screening and even tenants with great jobs and 750+ credit scores bring in an additional person not on the lease to live with them. I know why they do it, but it is basically stealing from me! I pay the water bills, so sometimes I can see a pattern of increased water usage, BUT if the tenant doesn’t admit it, how can I prove it!

    Thank you.

    • Kevin Perk

      James,

      So hard to police. Are they living there or just visiting? It can frustrate me as well. I honestly have not found a good way to deal with this as I do not have the time or resources to devote to scoping out the truth.

      I would like to hear from some other folks as well.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment,

      Kevin

  7. No horror stories, since I tend to be proactive and I have luxury condos. I check my tenants thoroughly. 22 years ago we lived on our sailboat for 6 months, since we wanted to sail the intracoastal. I rented a condo from 6/1 to5/31 for $2700. I had a bad feeling about him and required first, last, and security. All went well until Dec. I got a call on my cell that there was a notice on the bulletin board – a unit was up for sale. He bought it and moved out, leaving me potentially three months of no rent. My realtor was able to re-rent in April, with a 14 month lease. I also had one instance of an extra person moving in. My tenant told me her boyfriend was moving in and she wanted him added to the lease. I raised the rent $100/month. Although I live some distance from my rentals, I stay in touch by email and visit once a year (generally to sign a new lease and see how they’re maintaining everything.)

  8. Never had a full on abandonment.
    Had one give insufficient notice and basically disappeared since they knew they weren’t getting a deposit back as it was going to the next months rent even if there were no damages (no such luck on that FYI).

    I have had a one or two I WISH I had an abandonment story for. :)

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