What Can I Do if a Tenant Abandons My Property?

Have you ever had a tenant leave in the middle of the night or the middle of an eviction? Did you ever wonder what to do when the tenant abandons the property?

Basically, when a tenant abandons the property, you do not need to file an eviction or wait for the sheriff. You can change the locks. As for the tenant’s stuff, in some states, you can simply toss it. You should check your state or local law to see what your legal obligation is to store the items for the tenant.

It’s important to make sure you have your lease in place and all of your ducks in a row.

HOWEVER…

If you are not certain whether the tenant has abandoned the property, you should not change the locks. If you have the keys and your lease allows it, you could enter the premises, but KNOCK FIRST. Whether or not the tenant has abandoned is often a judgment call, looking at a combination of factors, such as:

  • Did the neighbors see them move?
  • Are the utilities shut off?
  • Did the tenant put in a change of address at the post office?
  • Is there any significant furniture left?
  • If you have access, are there sheets on the beds?

Even if the tenant is not sleeping there, they are still “in possession” if they have their personal belongings in the unit and have not shown an intent to abandon these items.

Some states have specific laws regarding PRESUMPTIONS of abandonment. For example, Connecticut law states:

Sec. 47a–11b. Abandonment of unit by occupants. Landlord’s remedies.
(a) For the purposes of this section, “abandonment” means the occupants have vacated the premises without notice to the landlord and do not intend to return, which intention may be evidenced by the removal of the occupants or their agent of substantially all of their possessions and personal effects from the premises and either (1) nonpayment of rent for more than two months or (2) an express statement by the occupants that they do not intend to occupy the premises after a specified date.

If you do intend to claim abandonment, take pictures, gather evidence and cover all bases to prepare for a possible wrongful lockout claim.  Definitely, give the tenant notice in writing where you have stored their stuff (if you have anything) and give them adequate time to come get it. If you have ANY doubts, call your landlord–tenant attorney and do the proper legal eviction proceeding.

Or, here’s another possibility…

PAY THE TENANTS TO LEAVE!!

If the tenant has NOT abandoned, or you aren’t sure, or you messed up and they are coming back for their stuff, you should consider giving “Cash for Keys” to bribe the tenant to give up possession. While not deserving if they are behind on rent, it is smart BUSINESS because you avoid an eviction and possible damage to the property by the tenant.  If you DO this, however, make CERTAIN you get the tenant to sign a RELEASE OF LIABILITY FORM.  This form, when signed by the tenant, will waive their rights to sue you for ANYTHING (even if you messed up and they have a claim).

About William Bronchick

William Bronchick
Attorney William ("Bill") Bronchick, host of Legalwiz.com, has authored six best-selling books and is sought nationwide for his 25+ years of real estate and legal knowledge. He has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, such as CNBC, TIME Magazine, USA Today, Investor Business Daily, Forbes, and the LA Times, to name a few. William Bronchick is the co-founder and past President of the Colorado Association of Real Estate Investors and the Executive Director and founder of the College of American Real Estate Investors. Click on the "About" link above for more information on William Bronchick.

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