Thankfully this is a rarity if you are using a reputable management company like us that screens tenants thoroughly, but it’s impossible to completely avoid. Sometimes there will be a tenant who abandons a property mid-lease. It usually happens after the tenant loses his job, or gets divorced, or has some other huge lifetime event that prevents him from paying the rent. In any case, no matter what the circumstance is for the tenant, what matters to you is how you deal with the abandoned property.
First, you need to be able to ascertain for sure that the tenant actually did abandon the property. The tenant simply not being there himself isn’t enough, because there’s always the possibility that he’s in the hospital, out of the country, etc. That doesn’t constitute abandonment. In those cases, the tenant still has legal possession of the property. However, there are several key things to look for that would constitute abandonment:
1. Are the utilities off? Our leases require the tenant to keep all utilities on for the entire length of their occupancy, even if they are out of the country for a significant period of time.
2. Is there still large furniture in the property? Beds are the most important thing to look for. If a table and chairs is left, but there are no beds or mattresses, then that’s an abandonment.
3. Did the tenant send written notice that they were abandoning? It doesn’t have to be a legal document, just something in writing from the tenant.
It’s important to not enter the property without attempting to provide reasonable notice to the tenant first. Until it’s been confirmed that the tenant has abandoned, then they still have legal possession of the property. Even as the owner, you can’t enter without providing reasonable notice. Some leases specify 24 hours to codify what reasonable notice is. If you try to provide notice and can’t reach the tenant, then make sure to knock on the door prior to entry.
After you’ve verified that the tenant has abandoned the property, it is best to take date stamped pictures so that you have evidence in case the tenant tries to come back and say that they have possession, or that you stole their property. Pictures that show a disheveled condition of the house without large furniture will keep you on sound legal footing. Then it’s time to send the move-out statement to the tenant. Since you don’t know where they are, just send it to the property address, which is their last known address. Keep it when it gets returned so that you have record that you attempted to send them their required statement.
If you’ve dealt with tenants abandoning your rental property, you know how much it can cost you in both lost rent and repairs. Abandonment is far less likely when you have a reputable management company screening your tenants. Give us a call so that we can help you find a good tenant.