Maybe they stopped paying rent and were facing eviction. Maybe you have not seen them in while. There is plenty of reasons why someone would leave their home in the middle of a lease, but now what do you do?
The first step is to determine if they really did abandon the property. Tenants may be out of their home for business trips, vacations, hospitalizations, or even something a bit more sinister, like a kidnapping. The first thing you will want to check is to see if they are behind on rent; someone planning on coming back will most likely continue paying rent. Some more questions to ask yourself include:
- Is any personal property or valuable items left behind? Typically, if someone does not have plans to return to the residence, you will not see many valuable or personal items, such jewelry, clothes, and pictures. If you see a lot of trash or rotten food, it is more than likely that they will not be returning.
- Do the neighbors know anything? Everyone has nosey neighbors that love to peak through their blinds. Ask around, see if they saw anyone leaving or moving out in the middle of the night; they may know more than you think.
- Are utilities shut off? If the tenant has truly abandoned, they would have turned off electricity and water. A quick call to the company who handles that for your area should answer that question.
- Has a change of address happened? Tenants who have abandoned may have changed their address. Your local post office should be able to help you determine if they changed it.
- Have you contacted their emergency contact? If you believe the tenant has abandoned, or may be in trouble, calling their emergency contacts is beneficial. They may know where they are or be able to tell you if something happened.
Once you have determined that the tenant has abandoned, the next thing to do is to notify them that you believe they have abandoned the property. Even if they have not responded to your inquiries about their whereabouts, you will still need to give them an official notice with a set amount of time to come reconcile any fees, gather personal items, or prove they did not abandon. The best way to give the official notice is to go through certified mail, so that way, you can prove that it was sent and delivered.
As far as personal property is concerned, create a list and take photos of everything left behind in the apartment. As a landlord, most states require you to store a tenant’s property that was left behind for a specific amount of time, so they have time to come retrieve it. You can pack it all up, place it in a storage unit, and then go ahead and change the locks on the property. Once the deadline has passed for the tenant to come pick up their things, check with your local or state laws to what you, as a landlord, can do to dispose of or get rid of the property that was never claimed.
Document everything during this process! Take photos of why you believe the property has been abandoned, such as overgrown yards or mail that is piling up in the mailbox. Document their rent record; know when they last paid, how much they owe, and how many times you reached out regarding their unpaid bill. Record conversations with their emergency contacts. Anything that might be helpful in proving why you feel they abandoned would be beneficial.