Abandonment of Rental Property

It's not always easy to know when a tenant has abandoned their property. Sometimes it looks like a tenant has left the home, but that might just be because they've been on an extended business trip. As long as a tenant has paid rent and it is current, then every jurisdiction considers the property under the ownership of the tenant.

If the rent has become overdue and you have not heard from the tenant, however, you may begin determining if the property has been abandoned. Serve notices as you would with any delinquent tenant and wait for a response. You may also have the option to serve a 3 day notice or an Abandonment notice depending on your jurisdiction. Do not change the locks or remove their property unless you've been given a court order to do so.

Sometimes the Lease Has a Definition of Abandoned Property

It is important to make sure there is an abandoned property clause in your lease so that both parties understand what will happen if property is left behind. Most jurisdictions have specific laws that require a landlord to hold onto unclaimed property for a certain period of time in case the tenants attempt to claim it later on. There could be legal complications for not holding onto the property. A tenant who has not paid their rent on time still has legal rights to occupancy until they are legally evicted or a public notice of abandonment has been issued.

That's why it is important to document everything. Take pictures of the property that has been abandoned so that you have proof of what has happened. Use a local newspaper to establish the date within the picture because the time stamps on a digital photograph are pretty easy to alter.

You may need to take these steps even if the tenants have given notice that they will not be living in the home any more.

What Can I Do With This Abandoned Property?

Although it might be tempting to sell the abandoned property, especially if the tenant is behind on rent, most jurisdictions will not allow this. Some will because of automatic lien laws that are in place, but most require a landlord to track down a tenant to the best of their ability before disposing of the items. Even when selling the property is allowed, some jurisdictions have items that are exempt from being sold. Check local laws and make sure you announce any intent to sell abandoned property in public.

If the property does not sell and you've fulfilled your obligations to protecting the property based on local laws, then you are able to dispose of the property. If you had any storage fees as part of your property protection duties, this can be charged to the tenant and become part of the past due rent or other charges you may be pursuing.

Most tenants have a statutory deadline to claim any property that they've left behind. If that deadline passes and they do not claim the property, then you can do whatever your local laws allow. Just make sure to double-check your laws before proceeding because there is a very wide variation of laws in this specific matter.
Posted on Oct 13, 2014


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