It can be a headache when a tenant suddenly leaves. The situation can be confusing as you’ll have to wonder whether or not the tenant has left for good. If they have, that leaves you with a vacant unit, which is something that no seasoned property investor would ever want.
If you’re dealing with a similar situation, or if you simply want to be aware of what you should do in case it happens, this article will cover the basics of rental abandonment.
How can you tell if the tenant abandoned the property?
First things first… can the home actually be considered abandoned? It isn’t uncommon for tenants to set off suddenly. If your tenant hasn’t been seen by the neighbors, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve vacated the unit.
As a landlord, you shouldn’t automatically conclude that your tenant has abandoned the unit. You need to do some digging. Here’s what you can do to determine whether or not your tenant has vacated the property for good:
#1 Call their emergency contacts
If you believe that your tenant has abandoned the unit, your first step should be to call the tenant. If you can’t reach them, call their emergency contact/s. Tell them about the situation and the terms of the tenant’s lease. Inform them of the consequences that their friend or family member could face if they abandon the property. They’ll probably be able to contact the tenant on your behalf.
#2 Check if they’re still paying rent
If your tenant is still paying rent, it’s a sure sign that they’re still interested in staying there. They may have simply gone on vacation and have forgotten to tell you. Contact your tenant to confirm that they’re still coming home. You could also offer to conduct inspections to ensure that the unit is safe while they’re away.
On the other hand, if they haven’t paid their rent in months, this could indicate that they’ve abandoned the property.
Pro Tip: Hire a property management company to help you consolidate each tenant’s rental payments. That way, you can instantly tell if something is up.
#3 Check if the water has been turned off
Depending on where you live, you usually have to give a 24-hour notice prior to entering the property. If your tenant gives you the green light to enter the property, it’s a sign that they haven’t left for good. However, if they don’t reply to your notice, you can enter the property after to see if the utilities are still on. If the heat or water has been shut off, they may have abandoned the unit.
#4 Chat with their neighbors
It’s impossible for neighbors not to notice when someone has moved in or moved out. Moving can be time-consuming, spanning several days. Someone is bound to notice if their neighbor has hired a long-distance moving service or if a moving van is parked in their driveway. To find out if your tenants are gone for good, have a chat with their neighbors. They should be able to narrate what they noticed on the day they vacated the property.
What should you do if a tenant abandons the property?
When you’ve ascertained that the tenant has vacated the unit, you can’t simply throw away their stuff. You should always follow the law. Consider enlisting the services of a property management company to help ensure that you remain compliant.
#1 Inventory the tenant’s property
Create a list of the belongings that your tenant has left behind. If possible, supplement your list with photo documentation. This way, the tenant can’t sue you for stealing their stuff.
#2 Store the tenant’s property off-site
Because you’ve established that the tenant abandoned the unit, you can begin searching for replacement tenants. Ideally, you shouldn’t store the past tenant’s items in the property. Instead, store them at a storage unit where the tenant can claim them.
#3 Notify the tenant
Inform the tenant that their belongings are being stored elsewhere. If you can’t get in touch with them, you can either sell or donate their items. Keep in mind that laws vary by state, so be sure to consult a South Florida property management firm if you don’t know what to do with abandoned tenant property.
Can a tenant move back in after abandoning the rental?
As long as there is evidence to support that the tenant has abandoned the rental, you can serve them with a “Notice of Belief of Abandonment”. If they do not respond to your notice, you can safely assume that they have no interest in returning. Once abandonment has been confirmed, the tenant will not be able to move back in.
If the tenant has truly abandoned the unit, you do not need to follow a formal eviction process. You can dispose of their possessions and rent the property out to another tenant. Be sure to follow your state’s specific laws about abandonment, as you may not be allowed to dispose of your tenant’s belongings until a certain period has passed.
Remember to be absolutely certain that they’ve abandoned the unit, otherwise, you be sued for wrongful eviction in the future.
Example #1: Let’s say that your tenant hasn’t been able to pay their rent. You visit the unit and find out through their neighbors that they haven’t been home in days. You attempt to contact your tenant but they constantly drop the call. Their emergency contact can’t be reached, either. After several days, you serve them a Notice of Belief of Abandonment, but to no avail.
In this case, the property can be deemed abandoned. This is because of the reasonable evidence you’ve found to prove that the tenant abandoned the property. So, if the tenant suddenly arrives, they will not be allowed to live there.
Example #2: Now, let’s say that your tenant suddenly leaves, but their neighbors tell you that they’re going on vacation. You contact them but you can’t reach them no matter how many times you try. You also notice that their mail is still being delivered to the door. Their emergency contact also tells you that they haven’t changed their address.
In this situation, can the tenant return and continue to live there? The answer is yes. There isn’t evidence to prove that the tenant has permanently vacated the property.
How can you prevent tenants from moving out without notice?
Your lease should contain an abandoned property clause. This details the conditions that would deem the property “abandoned”, as well as what the property owner can do with the tenant’s items. Moreover, the best way to prevent abandonment is by carefully screening your applicants. That way, you can “weed out” the tenants who have a history of abandoning their units.
To ensure that the tenant screening process complies with the Fair Housing Act, hire a property manager. The property managers from Luxury Property Care are trained in tenant relations, and can skillfully handle complicated situations such as tenant abandonment. We can assure you that our team will handle these situations with the utmost professionalism.