It is the end of the month and you are going through your rent collections and notice one is missing. “That’s odd,” you think to yourself. That particular tenant is never later plus I just spoke to her a couple of weeks ago and all seemed well.
You wait another day or so to see if the rent comes in. You receive nothing. You try to text. You try to call. There is no answer or the phone is no longer in service. You drop by the property and knock at the door. No one answers. You come back the next day and knock again. Again, there is no answer. You see one of the building’s other tenants and you ask about the missing tenant. “Oh, they moved out a week ago, I thought you knew!”
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Your Tenant Has Abandoned You…Now What?
The unfortunate bottom line is this: It happens. If you are a landlord and it hasn’t happened to you yet, it is likely that you will eventually experience a tenant that abandons you. What should you do next? Legally, what can you do next?
What you can and should do next is going to be detailed by your state’s landlord/tenant law. Since I am familiar with how things go in Tennessee, I will give you a quick synopsis of that process. Your state may be similar, or it may be completely different. Please get to know your local laws.
Your First Concern…
First and foremost, you need to protect your assets. Did they potentially leave any hazardous conditions when they left? Is the heat still on in the dead of winter? Did they take their pets with them (you never know!)? After figuring out that your tenant has abandoned you, and after having tried numerous times to contact your tenant, you are probably ok and go in and check on your property.
However, you need to be careful when doing this. Legally, you do not have possession of the property, your tenant still does. Yes, your other tenant says they have moved out, but perhaps they are only in the process of moving. They could be on their way back for the rest of their stuff and to give you notice. So, proceed with caution. Take a witness with you as you enter and go through the property. Better yet, video record your inspection on your smart phone in case something does come up.
For the sake of this article though, let’s say you go in and it is obvious your tenant has left. All of the electronics and more expensive items are gone. There is a piece of furniture here and there but nothing of value. Now what? You’ve got options but you still need to proceed with caution…
3 Ways to Regain Possession of Your Unit
You, as the landlord have to regain possession of the apartment from your tenant. That can only happen in three ways:
- You get a release of the rights of possession from the tenant.
- You evict the tenant
- You follow the rules for abandonment in you local state statute.
In reality, the first option can’t happen. If that tenant has abandoned you, there’s no way you’ll find them to sign a release. The second option of eviction tends to be too expensive and very time consuming. If you’re looking for the “best route,” I would suggest the third option listed, which is simply following the rules of abandonment in your local state statute. While this can be time consuming, it is really your best bet.
Basically, as the landlord, you have to wait almost a month before you can get your unit back. Under Tennessee law, if the rent payment is 15 days late and you suspect abandonment, you have to post a notice on the property and send the same notice to the tenant’s last known address stating that you intend to take repossession in 10 days. The notice should also state that you will remove any remaining items left in the unit at that time.
If you do not hear from the tenant within that 10 day period you can enter the unit and remove anything that remains. You now have possession of the property again and can re-rent it. You can’t, however, throw the stuff you took out away. You have to store it for thirty days. After those thirty days, if your tenant does not claim it, you can dispose of it however you wish. If you can sell the stuff, good for you, but in my experience you are just going to be left with junk. I often donate the stuff, like clothes, dishes or small pieces of furniture to local charities.
While time consuming, the process to reclaim your property after a tenant abandons it is generally going to be less expensive and take less time than an eviction.
Whatever you do, be sure that you follow your local statutes. You do not want to be accused of stealing grandma’s precious diamond wedding ring which was “hidden” in that junky couch. If you do things the wrong way you just may be liable for that ring. So, be careful. Know and follow your specific laws when it comes to abandonment.
What are your thoughts? Does anyone have a good abandonment story? Let’s discuss in the comments…