Tenant moves unexpected- Leaves all Items. Eviction needed or not?

10 Replies

A friend has a rental property in Marysville, Ohio. Three months remaining on the 12 month contract. She texts the landlord and says " I am no longer able to care for you home and have moved out of the property." She stated that she had a mental breakdown and is in a hospital. The landlord calls the hospital and they say that she is not admitted there. At least not in her name. She left basically everything in the house except personal belongings... food in the refrigerator, dishes in the kitchen, etc.... Does the landlord need to procede with an official eviction process in order to legally remove her "stuff" in her house or not? 

You dont need to evict. You can file for legal abandonment if you want to be really cautious.  

I would probably just save the text proving she has moved out and go in take photos. Place all items in storage for 30 days & re-rent the place.

Another thing you can do to cover your bases is to call the utility company to see if she has turned off the utilities.

She gave you notice that she moved You have to store her stuff for 30 days but you can charge reasonable fees Save the text as her communication   to vacate

Some states are different I am not a lawyer 

@Brent Raber

First, understand that every case is unique and that my post on this forum does not create an attorney client relationship. The following is general advice that you should consider before retaining myself or another attorney to counsel and assist you with this process.

That said, I advise my clients that they are safest if the terminate the tenant's possession of a unit by 1) engaging in some action that effects the transfer of possession (such as having the tenant return the keys to the landlord), or 2) engaging in the eviction process all the way through the court supervised move out.

If you don't legally terminate the tenancy before retaking the unit then you leave yourself exposed to a claim that you engaged in a self-help eviction, meaning you removed the tenant from the unit without the legal right to do so. Courts don't look kindly on this and you can be held responsible for damages. Damages typically include the displaced tenants relocation and housing costs for the period where they were wrongly denied access and may also include any property in the unit which you improperly disposed of. In some cases, statutory and / or punitive damages are available to the displaced tenant over and above actual economic damages.

Of course, from time to time my clients are unable to get a key back from a delinquent and / or missing tenant and ignore my advice about seeing the eviction process all the way through the court supervised move out. In cases where the tenant has left after an eviction has been filed and removed all personal property of value, some professional landlords choose to retake the unit early. Essentially, they're doing a little risk / reward analysis and conclude that the benefit of retaking the property earlier outweighs what they view as a small chance that a tenant who they are certain has already left would file suit against the landlord for doing so. Furthermore, damages, even if proven, are perceived to be minimal since the vacated tenant is presumed to have found new housing and no items of value were left behind.

The situation you described is a bit different. Some courts might think that the text message is sufficient to effect the transfer of possession back to the landlord, but I personally wouldn't risk it. Without more, my best guess is that many courts would not find that sufficient. If collecting the key is not an option then I'd immediately file the eviction once rent is late. I'd be even less keen on retaking the unit without a formal transfer of possession because there may be valuable property left behind and its unclear if the tenant has actually moved to somewhere new. Also, this situation is so unusual that I can just about guarantee you've omitted some fact that appears innocuous but an attorney would find very relevant. Consult with legal counsel before you do anything.

The other thing to look into is whether there are any applicable abandonment statutes or ordinances. I know City of Cleveland has a local ordinance that permits the landlord to retake an abandoned unit in lieu of eviction after following certain specific steps. I'm unaware of any similar state wide statute and I'm not familiar with your local jurisdiction to advise as to that. They also can be rather time consuming, technical, and complicated so it might not be the kind of thing you want to attempt to use on your own.

Thank you everyone for the advice! Its great to have a place to receive such valuable input! 

Obviously, each area is different, but what are the general procedures for filing legal abandomnent? 

My impression is that the tenant is either incapacitated or someone is impersonating her and she has gone missing. I would reach out to her emergency contact. Hopefully the landlord obtained that when the unit was rented. If unable to contact an emergency contact, I would try to reach one of the personal references from her application. We find it helpful when a person moves in to establish an emergency plan with them. If she had a mental breakdown and was hospitalized, then what was texted from her phone may or may not have merit.

In Washington State, we would look to landlord-tenant law and follow abandonment procedures as outlined in RCW59.18.310. Abandonment: The tenant is said to have abandoned the premises whenever he/she fails to pay the rent when due and indicates by words or actions an intention not to continue tenancy. At that point the landlord can move forward to re-rent the unit and may immediately enter and take possession of property. The tenant's personal property must be stored in a reasonably secure space and the tenant notified promptly that it is stored. The length of time the property must be stored depends on the value. The tenant can get their property back by paying moving and storage costs. There are also other requirements related to disposal of the property if the tenant doesn't claim it and rent compensation for the landlord depending on the terms of rental contract (MTM or longer lease).

I agree with @Timothy Murphy III , one must know and follow the laws for their jurisdiction. It is best to seek appropriate legal counsel for a situation such as this.

I agree with @C. @Timothy Murphy III .  IMO, it's not worth the risk that a tenant tells a judge that they forgot a priceless family heirloom in the kitchen cabinet and the LL took possession of the property without following the legal process/eviction.  Of course, in FL, the non-contested eviction process is fairly quick and you might only be looking at 7-10 days difference in receiving possession of the property.

I'm just curious - have you tried texting her again?  What if the landlord texted her and asked her if she wants her stuff back?  If she's coming back?  What's her new address to send any deposit to?  It seems like you might be able to get further communication via text that might suffice.  

I'd start with a text that might get her to respond, like "What is your new address, so I can send any security deposit I owe to you?"

Then follow up with, "Are you sure you are completely moved out?  Do you want any of your stuff back?"

Just wondering if that might be good enough?  To get her to admit in "writing" that she's abandoned the unit?

Because of my profession, I have to see risk around every corner. Ultimately, my job is to explain the risks that I can foresee and let the client make the decision he or she thinks is best. In some situations, I can understand why the landlord would chance it than follow the exact letter of the law.

Of course, if my best advice isn't followed I do recommend that the landlord take detailed photographs / videos of any property that was left behind. It can go a long way to convincing a judge that the tenant didn't forget the Picasso and mint condition Mickey Mantle rookie card in the pile of trash that was left behind.

The landlord did try contacting her again (after she stated she left the property) and was unable to do so. I believe her son was listed as an emergency contact, but he didnt seem to know what was going on. The landlord has quite a few " cracks and issues" in there management procedures so Im assuming that they dont have any personal references.

The aspect of the tenant being able to state that there were valuables or family heirlooms left in the property was one that I overlooked yet I see as a possibility of being an expensive mistake.

Im kindly offering advice to a friend and trying to help them out. I will give them all this information and hopefully get them out of their "pickle"

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