Indianapolis, Indiana Tenants Abandoned Property - But Left Keys?

20 Replies

First, please, please, PLEASE don't comment just to tell me to ask an attorney. I am going to ask an attorney. Here, I'm just looking for anecdotal info from anyone who's dealt with a situation like mine. I understand nothing you tell me should be considered legal advice.

Now, here's the what happened:

Tenants signed in April 2014. 12-month contract, paying weekly on Saturdays. They skipped a payment on June 1, but caught up a couple weeks later. Then they skipped again in July and they haven't been caught up on payments since July 13. They got close four weeks ago, but then dropped farther behind again, so I gave them 10 business days' notice to pay or quit on 8/12/14. They haven't paid a dime since then.

Yesterday, the 9th business day, I asked them when they would like to return keys today. They said, since their car had to be towed, there was absolutely no way they were going to be able to move out until Saturday. Having heard that story several times, I got the paperwork together to (finally) file for eviction (I know, I know - only suckers wait that long. Lesson learned). This afternoon, I was at the courthouse filing for an emergency possession hearing (because they had reported leaking pipes...which I verified were leaking through the floor into the basement), and when I came back, their keys were in my mailbox! Not sure how they were able to come up with somewhere to go before Saturday, but they were out!

But when I went back to their apartment, ALL their furniture is still there. All of it. They stole my window A/C and the plastic piece that holds the batteries in my thermostat, and they took their clothes, but everything else is still there.

So I sent a text message: "Should I take these keys as an indication you do not intend to come back?" They replied, "Seriously? U said to be out today [expletive]."

Indiana's statutes are no help at all:

"Sec. 2. (a) A landlord has no liability for loss or damage to a tenant's personal property if the tenant's personal property has been abandoned by the tenant.

(b) For purposes of this section, a tenant's personal property is considered abandoned if a reasonable person would conclude that the tenant has vacated the premises and has surrendered possession of the personal property."

So...can I get rid of their stuff? It seems "reasonably" obvious to me that they abandoned it, since they gave me keys and called me a rude name when I asked if they were coming back. I'm expecting a call from the court tomorrow to let me know if I'm going to be granted the emergency hearing, though I don't know if I even need it since the "emergency" part doesn't apply anymore.

Just want to know if anyone has had this kind of situation, where the tenant did leave the keys, but also left a bunch of their stuff, especially if you were in Indiana. I'll be talking to an attorney too, so again, please don't comment just to tell me to do that. I'm not looking for legal advice, just anecdotes. Thanks!

Something else I forgot to mention:

When I gave the tenants the "pay rent or quit" notice, I also had them sign and return a "Promise to Pay or Vacate" form, which had them check whether they intended to pay or vacate. After the response they checked (vacate by today), is a paragraph that says:

"If we fail to do the above, we give our permission to Lessor to change the locks on our door and allow Lessor to re-rent our rental property. Any property listed in the Lease Addendum as belonging to Lessor will remain on said premises and will not be removed from the property. Any property that belongs to us, we give Lessor our permission to remove from the property and set on the street. We realize it is our responsibility to pick up our personal property and articles no later than 48 hours after the locks on our apartment have been changed."

Since I have this signed form stating their intent to move out today, and they did in fact give me keys today, shouldn't that be all I need to establish that they did move out and abandon their belongings?

Crazy.... I would think that with the text you received, the document they signed and the way they left the property and stole an AC!! they should have no chance if ever they take you to court. 

Having said that if you still want to go one step further, since you still have communication with them how about one more text: "You left a lot of stuff behind. Would you need an hour tomorrow between 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm to pick up more of your remainings or would you prefer that I dispose all that's left". 

Just my thoughts, I haven't had too much experience with tenants like this to my delight :)

That's a good idea. Can't hurt to try to ask. At least that way it's definitive.

I think it's confusing that the court both expects me to "make every reasonable effort to minimize losses," but then also figure out what to do when tenants leave their stuff. Kinda tough to re-let the place if their stuff is still there!

I agree with @Guy Raveh  

regarding one more attempt at letting them pick up their property but I would also include a request that they return your property (the A/C unit). Then, depending on your states laws, I would store their persona; property for the predetermined amount of time before selling or disposing. Regardless of your desires, abide by the laws regarding holding that property so you don't get sued later.

It certainly does not help that Indiana does not have any published, authoritative cases concerning this particular portion of the Indiana Code. However, it does have one unpublished opinion which sheds some light (Pagorek v. Garippo, 946 N.E.2d 661, Ind. App.) on the definition of abandonment.

There are two explanations of abandonment. One explains abandonment as a "concurrence of the intention to abandon and an actual relinquishment." The other explanation of abandonment is "the relinquishment of property to which a person is entitled, with no purpose of again claiming it, and without concern as to who may take possession."

Given those explanations of "abandonment", the question remains -- would a reasonable person conclude that your former tenants intended to abandon the property? I think that given that the former tenants gave you back the keys and the text message would lead a reasonable person to believe that they abandoned the property left in the unit (much like stuff left in a unit after a lease expires -- it seems like I am always throwing out a stray bag of ratty Christmas decorations that I assume have been abandoned).

I think the safe way to proceed would be to text the former tenants with a date and time when those items will be removed from the unit, along with a request for them to return the air conditioner. That way, even if the property was abandoned, they would have an opportunity to reclaim it. But as you already stated, that sort of specific advice should come from your attorney.

@Lindsay Wilcox  my text to them would say, "If you bring back my A/C unit when you come pick up the rest of your stuff, I won't have to call the cops to let you explain to them where the A/C unit went."

There's a person who goes through the neighborhood stealing A/C units, so if I had to guess, their intention is to blame him, since they left the window open.

Guess they forgot they'd already put the screen back in that window...

*sigh* You just can't make people smarter.

I agree with @Guy Raveh  . I would also tell them to bring back the AC unit when they come by. If not, I would call the cops.

@Lindsay Wilcox  

Out of sheer curiosity, what Indianapolis neighborhood are you in? If you prefer to just give cross streets or PM me that's fine too--but it sounds like there are some reoccurring shenanigans going on in the area. Better be cash-flowing well!

Fountain Square...but the eastern part of it that isn't all fancy and nice (yet!) ;o)

I just had an idea, when I realized they had moved the trash can under where the air conditioner used to be, and sure enough, under all the garbage in the trash can, my air conditioner, in pieces.

I sent them a text asking them to provide a reason so I have something to tell the police.

How do you know they stole your A/C unit it could be the crack head next door that took it? Ask some of the large apartment complex in your area how they handle things when a tenant abandoned the property and leave things behind.

Joe Gore

The only open window had a screen in it. I've already located it in a trash can, but if it had been taken, it would have to have been taken from the inside because the rest of the windows were locked. Nobody could have taken it from the outside and then locked the window to cover their tracks.

I finally got a response from them about their belongings and they specifically said, "We don't want them," so I'm going to move ahead with clearing them out!

Get it in writing they don't want the belongings to cover yourself.

Joe Gore

It was a text message. That's writing.

Hang in there!  Fountain Square is the best area in the city to have rentals right now in my opinion.  If you're east of State ave its going to take some time but it will turn around.  If you want any help with management or leasing let me know.  I've had rentals in the area for a decade now.  We get young professionals / college students / 650 credit and better every single time.   @Lindsay Wilcox    

I am east of State. And I agree, orcs going to be a little while yet. I'd definitely be interested in talking with you. I'm on tenant #3 for that unit and only bought the place a year ago, so I'm obviously doing something wrong! It's a 3-plex, and I live in one of the units, which has major ups and downs! There's also a chance I'm going to need to move back to Colorado next year after 10 years away to take care of parents, at which point I'd probably need to hand management over to PM completely.

Call a charity who will come and pick up the furniture and other belongings. Get a donation receipt and move on. Also, don't forget to mail the tenant a final report about the security deposit, if required by your landlord-tenant law. Make a clear written record that shows how and when the unit was legally returned to you. Intentional return of keys by the tenant is a clear indicator of the return of possession date. Include your communications with them in the record and put it with their tenant file.  Archive.  The idea of working with a fellow landlord with experience or hiring a PM company sounds like a good option for you. Good luck.

They're so busted up I didn't even think a charity would take them. I took them out to the curb, knowing that "heavy trash" day is the 2nd Tuesday of the month, and most of it disappeared in the time it took me to go inside and get the next thing. It was a little spooky.

Create Lasting Wealth Through Real Estate

Join the millions of people achieving financial freedom through the power of real estate investing

Start here