When it’s time for renters to move out, landlords are faced with the time-consuming process of tenant turnover. Every property owner wishes this were a stress-free experience, but the reality is that it can be a whole lot of work.
Tenant turnover involves conducting move-out inspections to assess the condition of the property. During this stage, every landlord hopes that it’s the same as the day that tenants moved in. While many landlords scratch their heads at the amount of property damage that their rental received during the lease, there’s another situation that has gotten many landlords in hot water.
Upon inspection of your rental property, you may find that the previous tenant left several of their belongings behind.
If you’re dealing with a tenant who abandoned their property, here’s how you can deal with it.
Tenant property refers to personal possessions under the ownership of the tenant or their guests. Most lease agreements require that the tenant restore the property to its original condition upon moving out. This includes removing all of their personal property from the rental unit.
Obviously, the abandoned property does not apply to garbage. However, other exceptions include fixtures (e.g. built-in bookshelves, cabinets) and inoperable motor vehicles. If the lease agreement allows the tenant to install fixtures, these become part of the property. If the tenant leaves “junk” vehicles in the garage, the landlord will have to call the local police who will have them towed.
Before jumping to conclusions, you must determine if the tenant intentionally abandoned the property. Just because the tenant has been away for weeks or months does not mean that they abandoned their property. Below are a couple of good questions to ask yourself to determine if your renter has left for good:
- Is the tenant currently facing eviction? Are they behind on rent payments? In several states, as long as the tenant isn’t running behind on payments, his/her property cannot be considered abandoned.
- Are there significant items missing from the property? Many tenants will take furniture such as beds, sofas, and dressers when they’re moving.
- Are valuable items still around? If they left their computers, jewelry, and clothing, chances are the property isn’t abandoned.
- Did the neighbors see the tenant move out? If the neighbors say that they saw the tenant pack up and move, this can strengthen your case.
- Has the tenant responded to your texts, calls, and emails? This is the first thing you should do when you’re unsure about the status of their property. If they fail to respond after multiple attempts, they likely abandoned their property.
Detailed documentation is crucial to protecting yourself should your previous tenant file an illegal lockout suit. Here’s what you need to properly document:
- Photos and videos of the rental property. Take multiple photos to capture evidence of abandoned property. This can include abandoned pets, missing furniture, rotting food in the refrigerator, and so on.
- Communication between yourself and the tenant. Keep copies of emails, text messages, and written notices that you sent to your tenant. This shows that you attempted to reach out before taking legal action.
- Communication between yourself and the tenant’s contacts. Prepare a summary of each conversion, highlighting important points such as addresses, dates, and times.
After removing garbage from the property, list down all of the belongings that the tenant left behind. Take photos of each item to document their condition — this will protect you from any damage claims. Consider using property management software or inventory apps to sort the items into categories. For instance, one folder for kitchenware, another for electronics, and so on.
Keeping the previous tenant’s abandoned property in the rental unit can be a burden especially if you’re preparing your property for new renters. You can store their property in a storage unit or a separate area on the property, such as the basement, garage, or storage shed. Keep receipts and invoices of the expenses involved in storing their property. This allows you to be reimbursed once the tenant claims their items.
Part of your responsibility as a landlord is to exhaust all necessary means to contact the tenant. You can find their address in their application, but if you receive no response, you can refer to other information on their file such as their emergency contact’s address. Deliver a written notice of their abandoned property personally or by mail. The notice should include:
The itemized list of abandoned property
The deadline for getting the property back
The location of where the property is stored
The expenses incurred in storing the property
The consequences of not claiming the property (e.g. selling, auctioning, throwing away)
Most states permit landlords to sell the abandoned property at a public or private sale. You also have the option to donate it, throw it away, or keep it in the property — especially if the abandoned property includes quality furniture and appliances. In this case, you can even raise your rental price!
It’s best to do your own research on your state’s exact rules on abandoned property. Always remember to consult a legal professional before making any decisions involving your tenant’s belongings.
You should also consider hiring a property management company like Luxury Property Care to guide you through this complicated process. At Luxury Property Care, we have a team of professional property managers who will ensure that your investments are protected. Plus, with our decades of experience in the industry, we can help you find responsible tenants who won’t just up and leave.