What to Do When a Tenant Just Leaves Your House

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Several years ago I was renting one of my townhouses to a couple and a friend of theirs. They’d been with me for about two years and had been dream tenants. I’d never had any problems at all. Then one night I got a call from the woman (who was part of the couple) saying the police had just come by looking for their friend.

Supposedly, there was a warrant out for his arrest and they were there to bring him in. Well, the couple immediately called me and the woman was very upset. They had known the guy for a long time; they’d never seen anything “shady” with him, etc.

Then she wanted to know what she should do and she said “I don’t want him to live here anymore, I can’t get a hold of him and I haven’t even seen him in a week.” I had never been in this situation before so I immediately called my lawyer and took out my lease to see what it said.

In short, almost every lease should have an abandonment clause.

And many abandonment clauses are state specific. For example, my clause said that after 14 days of not being in the property and if they hadn’t paid rent, then I could declare the place abandoned and the stuff was mine. Of course, I ran all this by my lawyer and he said this was the correct way to proceed.

So I waited for the rent to come and it never came from him. He also never showed back up at the house. When the time was up I went over to the house and he had a room full of junk. A bed, a desk, a few CD’s and some clothes. I didn’t want to deal with it so I gave it all to the couple and they were more than thrilled to be able to sell the stuff on e-bay.

Interestingly enough…

The couple found out that their friend had been writing bad checks and had left the state because he was afraid of getting caught. It turned out the penalty for his first time wouldn’t have been that bad, but he was foolish and made things 10 times worse by running.

On a good note though, the couple loved the house and decided to sign a new lease and start paying his portion of the rent too, so they could have the entire place to themselves. What could have turned out a lot worse wasn’t actually that bad.

Should this ever happen to you, I would consult a lawyer and make sure you follow your state law. Also, see what clauses are in your lease so you know how to deal with tenants who for one reason or another may one day abandon your property.

About Author

Jason R. Hanson is the founder of National Real Estate Investor Month and the author of “How to Build a Real Estate Empire”. Jason specializes in purchasing properties “subject-to” and has purchased millions of dollars worth of property using none of his own cash or credit.

4 Comments

  1. It seems to me that abandonment would constitute more than just not being in the property. That may be the letter of the law, but it should be noted that judges frequently reinterpret, change, alter, or just plain ignore the letter of the law and set themselves up as the aribiters of disputes regardless of the law. In so doing, the system has morphed from one where we can rely on a court of law, to a court of equity where what is “fair” is more important than what is right, or what is lawful.

    The law, and your legal counsel’s advice notwithstanding, may I suggest that the right course of action would have been to immediately attempt to make contact with him directly. Perhaps you left out a lot of information, but what came across is that you determined nearly instantaneously based on hearsay that your tenant left and wasn’t coming back. To me it appeared that you assumed the information provided to you was accurate. What if it wasn’t? What if they had a fight and he had stormed out a few seconds prior?

    If your tenant has left the property for two weeks, but can still be reached by phone or email– which may be determined by a simple question from the judge: have you changed your phone number since you left the property?– they will have a pretty strong claim that they were in the property, and/or that they always intended to return, and/or they did in fact return at some point (mind you, it doesn’t have to be true).

    Had this couple misinformed you about the story, had your tenant returned and discovered that he was off the lease, his personal possessions were missing, and this couple had taken his place based on a false story about him kiting checks, and running off when he was really just caring for a sick relative in another city or state…you’d have been in heap big trouble.

  2. I think most states have clauses that do seem to create for a rather quick turnaround of supposedly abandoned leases. I haven’t dealt with this issue, but it is one that makes me leery of the whole rental property scenario. You could hedge your bets by storing the personal property, but what a continuation of a headache…

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