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What do you do? The tenant has not returned the keys to you or told you they have moved out, so you have no actual notice of their abandonment of the property.
Deciding when a tenant is no longer in possession of a rental unit can be simple or extremely perilous. Decide wrong and you end up on the paying end of a judgment.
The simple decision is when the tenant hands you the keys and tell you he or she has moved out. Then you have the right to enter the premises and rerent it.
Other circumstances can be much less objective. For example, say you have been unable to get in touch with the tenant for a couple of weeks and decide to check on the property. You attach a notice to the door that you are going to inspect the property in 24 hours (or whatever is required in your state). The next day you go over, the notice is still attached to the door, and you let yourself in. There doesn't seem to be near as many possessions as the tenant had when they moved in. There is no food in the refrigerator or the cupboards, no cooking utensils. All that is left is assorted personal possessions that don't seem to be worth much.
What do you do? The tenant has not returned the keys to you or told you they had has moved out, so you have no actual notice of their abandonment of the property. The landlord/tenant law in many states requires that tenants notify the landlord if they will be gone more than a specific number of days. Ideally after that time, if it looks as if the tenant has moved, you can consider the unit abandoned. Often it is that simple. In the example above, you would probably be safe to change the locks, clean up and rerent the place. What if all the tenants' possessions are still there? Maybe they just went on vacation for a month and didn't tell you.
Then you have a couple of options. Remember the rental application they filled out? It has the names of personal references. Try to reach them to find out what has happened to your tenant. One or more may tell you the tenant is just on vacation and didn't bother to tell you. Or maybe they are in jail, and couldn't tell you. You have to decide what to do at that point.
The second option is a "with-cause" notice. That says that they have violated the terms of the rental agreement, i.e., they left for more than X# of days without telling the landlord, they have 14 days to correct the problem or move. If you have still not heard from the tenant by the time the 30 days is up, you can remove all the tenant's possessions, and follow the procedures in the first part of this section. (The time frames in your state may be different.)
Whatever you do, document it at every step. Write down what you did when, who you talked to, what notices you sent, everything. Most state laws provide that after a tenancy has expired (the lease has ended or the tenant has indicated he or she will move) and the landlord reasonably believes under all the circumstances that the tenant has surrendered or no longer claims the right to occupy the dwelling unit you have the right to assume that the tenant has delivered possession to you.
The key word is "reasonably." That's why you keep a record of everything you do, so you have a basis for reasonably believing the tenant has surrendered the premises.
Most important, read carefully your state's landlord/tenant law on "abandonment": every state's law is slightly different. Know what is expected of you as a landlord when you believe your rental property has been abandoned.
Wallace S. Gibson, CPM * GIBSON MANAGEMENT GROUP, Ltd.
"...to be a Virginian, either by Birth, Marriage, Adoption, or even on one's Mother's side, is an Introduction to any State in the Union, a Passport to any Foreign Country, and a Benediction from the Almighty God...." Anonymous
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.