Tenant vanished...protocol for getting apartment back

17 Replies

Will there be legal consequences to how I handled the below situation?

I have a tenant who was falling behind on rent. I went to ask for the apartment back and learned she had started moving her things out in mid June. She agreed to move her things by 6/30.

She’s been MIA for several days and today with police present I entered the apartment to find it almost looked abandoned. All her clothes, items were there.

Did I do the right thing by going in and taking it back? Here are the facts I had on hand:

-tenant had property managers and my tel#- she never made contact with either of us

-no running water or electricity for several days

- neighbors said they haven’t seen anyone there for a while

-when I called the phone # I had listed- message says she changed it

-Bugs visible through the window showing signs of abandonment

Police were present when the door was opened and locks were changed. With the amount of items left behind, I’m second guessing if I did it right.

Your answer will depend on the city/state of your rental property. Many states may be more forgiving, but in California in order to regain possession of a rental unit, a landlord must first determine it has been abandoned. This may include: unpaid rent, utilities are shut off and tenant notice. Next, if the landlord must send a properly written "Notice of Belief of Abandonment" notice and give 18 days for the tenant to respond. Only then may a landlord enter the premises and change locks. Any personal property left inside may be another process to deal with.

Questions for you:

  • Where are you located? This may be helpful if other BPs in your area have experience similar to your situation.
  • How many days was the tenant behind on rent? In CA, a tenant must be behind at least 14 days.
  • How/why were the police present during your entry?
  • Were utilities disconnected or just not in use for several days?
  • What personal property was present?
  • And lastly, did the unit actually appear to be abandoned?

Definitely varies by state law and what your lease says. Does your lease have an abandonment clause?

You’ll also have to treat left-behind property in accordance with your state laws. Some states require you keep it for 15/30 days.

in reality and don't do what I do ..  I would just haul it all to the dump..  if your worried about it rent a storage locker and store it for a few months.. take videos of you moving everything from the house to the storage unit.

but me.. its time to call in the dump service..

When did you go to the apartment?  Was it before June 30th?  Several days would not constitute "abandonment" in most states if it were before June 30th; she could just be on vacation.  In Florida, you would be required to give advance notice of an inspection before entering.  How did you learn there was no water or electricity - do you mean being used (she could be on vacation) or turned off with the utilities?  Bugs are everywhere so that would not be a legal argument.  Neighbor sightings aren't valid either.  She's allowed to change her phone number without giving it to you.  In Florida, this would not be a lawful entry under our landlord/tenant laws nor would you have the legal right to change the locks.

If you accepted the June 30th date, you're stuck with it unless it is released to you earlier.  Again, I'm talking Florida here so it may be different in your state.  I hate bargaining with delinquent tenants because the owner has all the risks - damage to the unit, continued non-payment of rent, and loss of future rental income while it's held hostage.  It just is what it is.

@Angelica Rivera it sounds like you jumped the gun and the costs may be more than 1 months rent. Even if the tenant agreed to move... if it isn't in writing it didn't happen. If the tenant doesn't pay rent: you address required to start am eviction process. Each state has their own laws. But what you did will likely cost you if the tenant returns or decides to take action.

@Angelica Rivera

A couple of questions:

1. Why did the property managers not handle this?

2. Why were they not evicted?

What I would do is have property managers post a notice saying:

“This property has been secured and seized due to abandonment. Please contact property management with any questions.”

Then I’d wait a week and throw it all away. In Arkansas if major items are gone (bed, furniture, etc.) a property CAN be considered abandoned.

@Dustin- I was in the area and stopped by when property managers mentioned the situation.

They put up a notice once police reviewed the situation and deemed the apartment abandoned. 

Originally posted by @Janina S. :

@Angelica Rivera it sounds like you jumped the gun and the costs may be more than 1 months rent. Even if the tenant agreed to move... if it isn't in writing it didn't happen. If the tenant doesn't pay rent: you address required to start am eviction process. Each state has their own laws. But what you did will likely cost you if the tenant returns or decides to take action.

Janina- with police present-she confirmed to be out by June 30 and was already living at the new location. She confessed that the what was in the apartment was only her clothes which she would be taking with her by 6/30. I found this out when I visited the property and saw other people trying to move their stuff in without my knowledge or permission. She was also falling behind on rent for the month prior.

Originally posted by @Hubert Kim :

Your answer will depend on the city/state of your rental property. Many states may be more forgiving, but in California in order to regain possession of a rental unit, a landlord must first determine it has been abandoned. This may include: unpaid rent, utilities are shut off and tenant notice. Next, if the landlord must send a properly written "Notice of Belief of Abandonment" notice and give 18 days for the tenant to respond. Only then may a landlord enter the premises and change locks. Any personal property left inside may be another process to deal with.

Questions for you:

  • Where are you located? This may be helpful if other BPs in your area have experience similar to your situation.
  • How many days was the tenant behind on rent? In CA, a tenant must be behind at least 14 days.
  • How/why were the police present during your entry?
  • Were utilities disconnected or just not in use for several days?
  • What personal property was present?
  • And lastly, did the unit actually appear to be abandoned?

My property is in hickory NC. Cops were called because the tenants I inherited were drug users and One had a criminal record. They were behind on one months rent.

Light, electricity and gas were no longer running for what appeared to be a few weeks. 

There were maggots in the refrigerator from all the spoiled meat, cooked food on the stove that spoiled on the stovetop and was covered in flies. Clothes were thrown all over the floor. 

When I say they left everything... I mean everything...clothes, furniture, food. We checked local jails and hospitals to see if something might have happened but came up with nothing. 

@Angelica Rivera

While no doubt the posters are well meaning, please understand that you need an answer for North Carolina and not how things are done in the other 49 states. Additionally, while I am a big supporter of the men in blue, I urge you not to heed their advice as well.  An eviction is a civil action and my experience in Texas is that the police no little about the process and guidelines

Based on your description, I would move forth with a cleanup and document the condition of the property along with the dates the services where cut off and neighbors accounting along with the police statements.  The chances they do not pursue action against you even if you were in error are 99+%.  Sometimes in this business we have to play the percentages in order to limit our losses

Originally posted by @Greg H. :

@Angelica Rivera

While no doubt the posters are well meaning, please understand that you need an answer for North Carolina and not how things are done in the other 49 states. Additionally, while I am a big supporter of the men in blue, I urge you not to heed their advice as well.  An eviction is a civil action and my experience in Texas is that the police no little about the process and guidelines

Based on your description, I would move forth with a cleanup and document the condition of the property along with the dates the services where cut off and neighbors accounting along with the police statements.  The chances they do not pursue action against you even if you were in error are 99+%.  Sometimes in this business we have to play the percentages in order to limit our losses

 @Greg H., Thank you for the advice. the person still hasn't shown up. We are waiting a few more days and putting their items in storage while we repair the apartment. This whole ordeal has definitely been a learning opportunity for me on eviction protocol and inherited tenants.  Go forward I'll be following the eviction process properly for NC but hope to minimalize that option by doing background checks on potential tenants to live on the property. thanks for your help! 

@Angelica Rivera ,

I take the approach @Jay Hinrichs mentioned.  I understand the cautious approach, and it's what I would recommend to other landlords, especially those in states that make it more difficult for landlords to conduct business.  However, personally I like to be able to rely on basic common sense.  


While in the presence of a police officer the tenant told you she would be out by 6/30.  On or after 6/30 (I assume) you went by the property, again with the police, and ascertained the tenant had indeed moved much of her belongings out, the utilities were off, the unit appeared abandoned, and the neighbors had not seen the former tenant for many days.  At this point, my inclination would be to change the locks and begin cleaning up for turnover.

I won't advise others to do that.  I would tell you to go through any and every legal step to regain possession.  It may take 60 days.  It may cost $100-$300 in court fees.  It may result in an additional 2 months of lost rent.  But, you can then be 100% certain that you will have no negative legal ramifications.

But for myself, I'd photograph the unit as she left it and the items she left there, box her remaining items and store them in a closet for now, clean the unit and start showing it to new applicants by mid-month.  If the tenant did not return for her now-boxed items by the time the new tenants were ready to move in, I'd put the boxes at the curb for the sanitation department.  I don't need for anyone else to tell me it's raining outside if I'm standing outside in the rain.

But I'm not advising you to do what I'd do.