Tenant abandonment is a distressing issue that every landlord has to deal with at some point of time or the other. As per the legal definition, abandonment is said to have taken place if any one of the following instances occur viz.
1. The tenant moves out of the premises without any prior notice.
2. The tenant hasn't paid rent for more than 2-months.
While the tenant is unapproachable, it becomes unusually difficult for the landlord to determine whether the renter has actually vacated his premises or not. Suppose, the renter has gone on a long vacations or he hasn't been able to pay rent because of unwarranted financial problems. Under such circumstances, the landowner presumes that the tenant has abandoned his premises and enters it; strict legal action would be taken against him as per the law of the State. Hence, tenant abandonment is a tricky issue that has to be handled with utmost care.
How to determine that my tenant has abandoned the property?
Before taking any step against the renter, it is essential to determine whether the latter has permanently moved out of your house or not. You have to pay a visit to your property and look for the signs that clearly demonstrate that your home has been abandoned. Some of the prominent signs of tenant abandonment are as follows:
For past two-months, your tenant has neither contacted you nor has paid the rent.
The keys your house has been changed.
The premise doesn't have any belongings of the renter.
The mailbox is either stuffed with letters or doesn't have any mail at all.
The neighbor has seen the renter move out.
Despite of repeated attempts you are unable to contact the tenant.
What do I do with the belongings that have been left behind?
According to law, if the tenant has left his belongings, you should store them properly and return them to the renter. This is called bailment where you have the temporary custody of your tenant's possessions. Anything left behind by the renter can be divided into two categories, lost property and abandoned property. While the former are those things that the tenant has left behind voluntarily, the latter is left by him unintentionally.
For the lost property that is something of significant value like cash or jewelry, you should deposit it in the local police station or Sheriff's department with an application enlisting the things, where they were found and whom does they belong to. If the police fail to track down the owner in 90-days, you can reclaim the property. For some reason, if the police refuse to accept the belongings, then they should be treated as abandoned.
For dealing with the abandoned property, you should first send a notice to the tenant clearly stating what the possessions are, where he can claim them, for how long he can claim them, what will happen if he doesn't claim them and how much he has to pay you for taking care of the property. If despite of serving the notice, the tenant doesn't claim his belongings, then sell them is public sale.
For this, advertise the sale in the local newspaper. From the proceeds that come from the sale, recover the cost of advertising and holding the sale, and storing the possessions. The remaining amount goes to treasurer of the county. If the amount goes unclaimed for 1-year, then you can re-claim it.
You have no liability for lost property, but for abandoned property, tenant has to demand his belongings in a timely manner. He would have to pay you the storage cost. However, if he doesn't turn up for a long period of time, then the property belongs to you.