Steps to take when tenant vacates property early term?

6 Replies

Hello All,

My tenant notified me that they needed to early term their lease agreement.  They have paid through the end of the month however have moved all of their belongings out of the house.  According to the lease they signed they are responsible for their monthly payment until lease term or until I sign a new lease.  Few questions...What steps should I take?  Can I change the locks?  What are my pitfalls?  What is the best way to communicate/ remind my tenants that they are legally responsible for their monthly payment until I get new tenants.

Any advise is greatly appreciated. 



This will have to be determined by what your lease says, and what your local landlord/tenant laws are. From my experience if a home has been abandoned then you can secure the property, change locks, turn utilities into your name, etc... You can bill the tenant for the remainder of the lease but its unlikely you will get the money from them without a court order. For example I live in Berkeley County, WV. In the county the court will typically award the remainder of the lease to be paid, but in Martinsburg City, which is our largest town they typically will not award it. You should definitely check with your local area to find out what the law is, and how it is typically interpreted by the court. 

In most cases your are best to go ahead take possession of the property, and work on leasing it back out. Whatever the rent loss between leases try and get from the tenant if the law allows. 

Good Luck! Aaron

Walter. Thank you for your input. I appreciate your help.

@Walter Aaron Poling gave a good response.  

Adding to that, did the tenant surrender the keys to you?  If/when they do you have legal possession.  In my state, if the tenant just vacates (we don't receive the keys) we post an 'abandoned property' notice as per our l/t laws, and then secure the property.  After the statutory time period (here it's 10 days) we take back possession.  

In PA, we've never had a District Justice grant judgment regarding future rent (until end of lease or new rental, whichever comes first). Even if they did, you have to find the tenant/debtor, serve them and proceed with whatever the legal process is in your state to collect the debt.  Good luck with that: in many cases the tenants vanish, and don't have any assets to collect against.  

Check your own state's l/t laws. 

@Craigx Dies

As the other posts have indicated the answer to your question depends on the lease and local tenant/landlord laws.

Ideally you can collect all that they owe you per your lease and local L/T laws, but ...

If they owe you and you cannot collect, do not do nothing as it just means another landlord that does proper screening will find it difficult to realize that they skipped without paying.  Therefore use a service like Rent Recovery Service or AOA Dept Recovery that will report that they skipped owing funds to the credit bureaus.  It will cost you a little bit (prices vary depending on the service you select but I believe start at $20) and you may not recover a dime but you will make it harder for them to find a subsequent rental and may save someone that screens their tenants from experiencing the same thing.

I am sorry your tenant skipped early.

Good luck

Hello Everyone.  Thank you for your input. You all were of great assistance.  I have possession of the keys and garage remotes as of last night.  Dan - thank you for your recommendation to reach out  to rent recover service. I will be sure to give them a call if my tenants fail to meet their legal obligations.  

You can hold them to the terms of the lease until a new tenant is placed. However, the odds of you getting paid are pretty small. You also have a legal obligation to try and procure a new tenant as quickly as possible to reduce the obligations of the departing tenant. In other words, you can't leave the home empty and expect the previous tenant to continue renting it for the remainder of their term.

This brings up two things you should consider changing: 

1. Create a policy for early termination, put it in writing, and ensure there's a clause in your lease. For example, I charge up to two months rent for early termination, depending on how much time is remaining on their lease. When a tenant tells me they want to leave early, I require 30 days notice, the early termination fee, and they have to sign an agreement that they will help me find a new tenant by allowing me to show the unit with reasonable notice.

2. What is the best way to communicate with the tenant? In writing, particularly when the issue may be complicated and/or stressful. After developing your policy, create a form or email that can be used over and over again. Keep it as short as possible and business like.

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