Tenants abandon property. Do I evict or move on?

16 Replies

Hey everyone, I have a home in San Antonio that tenants have abandoned and not paid this months rent (there are 6 months left on the lease). I’m curious to hear from those who would consider legally evicting the tenants vs. those who would simply keep their deposit and move on. And why. FYI - most of their stuff has been moved out. Thanks, Eric

Waste of money 💰. Move on!

It’s part of this business and if they were good people they won’t do that.

This may seem apples/oranges, but Self-Storage and renting houses are surprisingly similar. If we have that situation in storage, we go through all the legal processes of treating the tenant as if they were just a non-paying tenant for the sole reason of CYA. It doesn't cost that much to evict; it just freezes your asset while you work it out through the courts, losing revenue. My opinion in your situation is to do the same. Treat them as though they are a non-paying tenant and legally evict them. 

That's not to say that I could possibly maybe have known some people who hypothetically have skipped all that bureaucratic hassle because their gut told them the tenant is way too lazy to ever come back with some sort of wrongful eviction litigation. In that case, they just skipped to the end of the "proper" protocol. You should document all attempts at contacting them no matter what, but if you choose this quicker route, DEFINITELY document all the times you tried to reach them.

Are you sure you don't have an "out" in the lease that you can find that says that if they ___________, then they have legally abandoned the unit to you? For example, if you are unable to contact them for X days, or if the home appears unlived in for X days, then you may consider the lease voided and/or consider the home vacated?

To be fair, my thoughts are anecdotal, not legally sound :) But some things to think about.

What do you achieve at the end? Maybe Your business is big and you may have staff to deal with court etc. 

Originally posted by @Jason S. :

This may seem apples/oranges, but Self-Storage and renting houses are surprisingly similar. If we have that situation in storage, we go through all the legal processes of treating the tenant as if they were just a non-paying tenant for the sole reason of CYA. It doesn't cost that much to evict; it just freezes your asset while you work it out through the courts, losing revenue. My opinion in your situation is to do the same. Treat them as though they are a non-paying tenant and legally evict them. 

That's not to say that I could possibly maybe have known some people who hypothetically have skipped all that bureaucratic hassle because their gut told them the tenant is way too lazy to ever come back with some sort of wrongful eviction litigation. In that case, they just skipped to the end of the "proper" protocol. You should document all attempts at contacting them no matter what, but if you choose this quicker route, DEFINITELY document all the times you tried to reach them.

Are you sure you don't have an "out" in the lease that you can find that says that if they ___________, then they have legally abandoned the unit to you? For example, if you are unable to contact them for X days, or if the home appears unlived in for X days, then you may consider the lease voided and/or consider the home vacated?

To be fair, my thoughts are anecdotal, not legally sound :) But some things to think about.

Originally posted by @Sai T. :
What do you achieve at the end? Maybe Your business is big and you may have staff to deal with court etc. 

Originally posted by @Jason S.:

This may seem apples/oranges, but Self-Storage and renting houses are surprisingly similar. If we have that situation in storage, we go through all the legal processes of treating the tenant as if they were just a non-paying tenant for the sole reason of CYA. It doesn't cost that much to evict; it just freezes your asset while you work it out through the courts, losing revenue. My opinion in your situation is to do the same. Treat them as though they are a non-paying tenant and legally evict them. 

That's not to say that I could possibly maybe have known some people who hypothetically have skipped all that bureaucratic hassle because their gut told them the tenant is way too lazy to ever come back with some sort of wrongful eviction litigation. In that case, they just skipped to the end of the "proper" protocol. You should document all attempts at contacting them no matter what, but if you choose this quicker route, DEFINITELY document all the times you tried to reach them.

Are you sure you don't have an "out" in the lease that you can find that says that if they ___________, then they have legally abandoned the unit to you? For example, if you are unable to contact them for X days, or if the home appears unlived in for X days, then you may consider the lease voided and/or consider the home vacated?

To be fair, my thoughts are anecdotal, not legally sound :) But some things to think about.

 You achieve at the end a sound legal eviction versus one that was not done legally. But whether or not to do that is up to the poster. This is a moot dilemma if the lease has language in it that defines tenant abandonment in a way that would qualify in this case. If that's true, the owner can certainly just move on without any legal proceedings.

An eviction is a suit for possession of the property. The property has been vacated, why would you file an eviction?  FYI- A good JP judge would dismiss anyway as be the time you went to court you already have possession 

Declare the property abandoned and move on to limit your losses.  Texas law allows the landlord to declare the property abandoned although it doesn’t specifically list the criteria. The criteria I use is:

-Delinquent on rent

-Utilities off

-Most possessions of value removed 

-Neighbors have not seen them or saw them move

You can always file a small claims action to try to recover you damages. In fact this is better as an eviction limits you to lost rent and court costs 

What does the landlord-tenant law say for the jurisdiction of the rental? Start there. Most states have laws that guide landlords as to what they can legally do in the case of abandonment. You can most likely legally regain possession of your property easily without the time and expense of an eviction.  If you have the evidence to demonstrate the tenants have indeed abandoned the property, do as @Greg H. advises. If the rental is in Austin, he's given you the most sound advice. 

Don't change locks until you have gone through the proper process to legally regain possession of your property. However, you can post a legal notice to enter so you can check out if the tenant has indeed abandoned the property. I assume you have already served the "3-day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit". Is it still posted? Did the notice come back to you in the mail? Call all the utility companies. Most tenants stop paying utilities before they stop paying rent.

As @Jason S. advises, documentation is important. Document everything. There won't be a need to go the eviction route if the tenant has indeed abandoned.  If the amount of damages (lost rent, property damage, other amounts owed to you) is significant, you can pursue the matter in small claims court. However, it's rarely worth the time, effort, and expense of doing so. Move forward and get the unit turned and a new tenant in!

Good luck!

Thanks everyone. I think I’ll probably just move on.

I’ve been through this before and simply took back the property and went on my way.

I was mulling over the idea of legal eviction in this case to place a lien on the tenant. So in the future, I might recover rent due (6 months at $7500) when they went to get a loan or rent from someone else. However, I hear you rarely recover a judgement.

It would also be nice to have this on their record so other landlords would have a heads up that these are not folks to rent to.

@Eric Knittel

This is the I am not a lawyer disclaimer 

First- you cannot just leave the property vacant and sue for rent due  as the law requires you to mitigate damages. 

Second- as I said earlier an eviction is a suit for possession of the property of which by your account I would have already taken possession and get it cleaned up and rented. By trying to file an eviction now as serving the tenants will be difficult as they are gone, this could take 30+ days and cause you to lose a couple of months rent at a minimum 

Third- if you can find them, you can always sue them later for the total amount of your damages not just past due rent and court costs that you are limited to in an eviction . Either way you willreceive a judgment (not a lien) .  The chances of collecting in Texas are rare as we do not allow garnishment and the list of exempt property is long. Yep they can buy a homestead and you can’t even collect then

I would document the property with video and or pictures , store any valuable property for a period and first and foremost start collecting rent again

Originally posted by @Eric Knittel :

Thanks everyone. I think I’ll probably just move on.

I’ve been through this before and simply took back the property and went on my way.

I was mulling over the idea of legal eviction in this case to place a lien on the tenant. So in the future, I might recover rent due (6 months at $7500) when they went to get a loan or rent from someone else. However, I hear you rarely recover a judgement.

It would also be nice to have this on their record so other landlords would have a heads up that these are not folks to rent to.

You can send them to collections for as little as $15. I've done that with tenants before. Money well spent. I had tenants that abandoned the property early AFTER I gave them notice to vacate due to serious violations of the lease consistently in the first month. In WA if a tenant abandons the property I legally don't have to return that months rent, etc. and can take possession of the property. The way to get back at them and make sure other landlords are warned is to send them to collections. I had a trashy girl trash one of my rentals, stop paying rent, then give notice to move out (note SHE gave notice that she would move out) and she ended up becoming a holdover tenant instead. I went out there and got her to leave within an hour but I sent her sorry butt to collections after she slammed the door in my face and told me to go back to my own country. Now she has a 2K collection on her credit for "Jack B. Rentals". I guess she didn't realize as her landlord I'm also her creditor....

https://www.rentrecoveryservice.com/

I agree with @Greg H.   It doesn't sound like an eviction (unlawful detainer) lawsuit would be appropriate in this case if the tenant has truly abandoned the property.  Evictions are to regain possession of the property and it doesn't sound the tenant is still in possession of the property. 

If your primary goal at this point is to recover monetary damages, then you should be filing a small claims lawsuit. 

Another option is to send the tenant to collections AND report the debt to the credit bureaus so that it appears on their credit report.  You can do that for a nominal fee and you don't even need a court judgment to do it.  Who knows, some day you might actually get paid off, and in the meantime you warn other potential landlords about the problem tenant (at least the ones who bother to screen their applicants). 

Here's a couple services where you can do that if you're interested: AOA Debt Reporting Service and Rent Recovery Service.

Good luck.

Hi Eric,

i'm facing a similar problem in my properly, located in Calera, Alabama.

The tenant was supposed to finish her lease on June 30th and decided to extend for 1 more year which was great in my POV.

She signed an extension on End of April and paid her rent ~2 weeks late as usual like every month she's been there. (for the last 15 months).

On May 30th i got an email from the management company that she has decided to leave the house early and that she would leave on July 30th, saying (the management company) that she would be in charge of all costs until a new tenant moves in.

Rent is usually paid every month till 5th but since i didn't get it by 15th i sent an email to the management company who told me that they just got a notice that she plan on moving out on June 29th and she won't/can't pay her rent anymore.

Eventually she moved out on June 22nd, leaving the property in good condition. The house is now back on the market. i'm not sure how long it will take to lease the house, it should be a good time now though but i do plan on using my collection agency she if doesn't make a full payment arrangement for all the amount that will be put on her name by the time i have a new tenant moving in. 

The first thing that I do if it seems like the late rent tenants have moved out: Change the locks.

If they are still there, they will call you for a key. Yes you must legally give them one, but you know for sure that they are still there. If they dont call you, you know that they are not there. Either way you know for sure. You would have to change the locks anyway.

After you change the locks you can start to get your plan together and get estimates for cleaning up and fixing the property. 

In Chicago if you haven't been able to contact the tenant, and the property "appears" to be abandoned for 22 days, then you can consider it abandoned. If the utilities are off, then that's considered an emergency situation and you can probably take possession immediately.

An eviction not only enters a judgement for unpaid rent, but also legally entitles you to possession and if known, permits you to file for a garnishment. Whatever the case, send a letter to their last known address (the property) stating that you have determined the property to be abandoned and what you will do with their items, and when it's returned to you, keep it in the sealed envelope.