Updated: Dec 27, 2022
It’s not common for tenants to skip rent and abandon their property, but it has been known to occur. Most tenants abandon a property because they don’t have the means to pay the rent, are facing an eviction, or don’t want to bother with the legalities of their lease. In some cases, the tenant may be faced with an emergency, such as hospitalization and even prison sentences.
This is why every lease agreement should include provisions for the steps you will take to establish abandonment. Tenants are legally in possession of the property as long as they haven’t broken the lease terms. Without first establishing abandonment, you will not be able to re-rent the property.
Call Their Emergency Contacts
If they are not picking up their phone, then this should be your first course of action. Inform the tenant’s emergency contact of the situation and the lease conditions. The emergency contacts may be able to get in touch with the tenant and help you determine if they’ve abandoned the property.
You can also talk to neighbors as an easy way to figure out if the unit has been abandoned. Ask the neighbors if they saw the tenant return to the property.
Depending on where you live, you’ll need to carry out the following steps:
Wait until the rent is overdue for a certain period (depends on your location)
Serve the tenant a notice that you believe they have abandoned the property, and you will be entering the rental unit in 24 hours
If you enter the property without taking the steps mentioned above, and the tenant suddenly returns to the premises, they can file a lawsuit against you or call the police on you for theft. Once you have followed your state’s process for determining abandonment, you might be able to sell some of the tenant’s possessions to recover part of the money owed.
This last step depends on state and local law, so make sure you consult an expert before discarding your former tenant’s belongings. Your property manager should be able to advise you on the best course of action.
Note: Different states have specific laws and timelines when it comes to tenant abandonment. You should be able to discard their belongings after the deadline has passed.
Securing the Property
If you there is radio silence from the tenant, you can enter the property and prepare it for a new tenant. You can also replace the tenant’s locks with your own. It is important to evaluate the property for signs of damages that the tenant could have caused. Add the cost of repair to the total amount owed. Finally, you can ask your property manager to get the property rentedagain.
Use the Security Deposit to Deduct Any Rent Your Tenant Owed
You have the right to deduct rent from the security deposit if the tenant failed to pay it initially. Depending on the local law, you may have to send your tenant an itemized list of deductions to your tenant. If you do not know the tenant’s current whereabouts, your local law may give the tenant some time to send you their new location. If the tenant fails to do so, they officially forfeit their right to the security deposit.
File a Lawsuit
You can also file a lawsuit against your former tenant if there is still an amount left. If you win, you can collect money from the tenant by levying their bank, garnishing their wages, and taking a lien out of the property they own. An alternative to filing a lawsuit is to hire a collection agency. Many collection agencies can handle important tasks, such as submitting reports to credit bureaus and filing lawsuits. The agency may take a percentage of the rent they collect.
Can the Tenant File a Lawsuit?
Of course, it is possible for the tenant to sue you. A common strategy is to claim your property was uninhabitable or that they paid rent and you are lying. However, you should be able to prove your case if you’ve kept all the necessary documentation.