When an individual or business moves into property as a tenant, they sign a rental or lease agreement. This legally binding document lays out the terms of their tenancy such as how much they will pay and the dates by which rent should be paid. It also lays out the procedure to be followed when the tenant wishes to vacate the property or when the landlord or property manager wishes tenants to vacate.
How property owners should handle property abandoned by tenants
One situation that most rental agreements don’t cover is what happens when a renter abandons their property on rented premises. This may happen because of a death, fleeing a domestic violence situation or other reasons.
Steps to take:
Before taking any action, it is important for a property owner to try and find out why the renter abandoned their belongings. Attempt to contact the tenants via private phone numbers. If they cannot be reached, go back to the rental agreement to get their work contacts and call their place of work. A third option is to talk with neighbors who might be helpful in determining their whereabouts.
Bring in the authorities
If a month goes by and the tenant cannot be located, it is time to bring in the local authorities.
What to do with their property
Rental laws about getting rid of abandoned property differ from state to state. In some states, dumping renter’s property can result in serious liability unless specified laws are followed. Before removing property, determine why they left and then check the laws in your city and state.
Why they left determines the procedure
In many states, your options for handling a tenant’s property are determined by the circumstances of the tenant’s departure. If a tenant moves out after following the proper procedure to give notice or when their lease expires, you are allowed to get rid of property they leave behind because they should presumably know that they left this property. You are also allowed to get rid of old furniture and other items which were most likely left behind because it is no longer working or wanted.
Many states also allow property owners to get rid of property left behind by a tenant when they have been served with notice to vacate for reasons like failing to pay rent. This is also the case where a tenant is evicted because of behavior that is dangerous or that disturbs the peace.
Landlords and property managers are required to handle things differently when the whereabouts of the tenant and their reasons for abandonment are not clear. This is to protect the tenant from losing their belongings if the reason for abandoning their property was beyond their control.
For example, in cases where a tenant traveled and fell ill or they were in an accident where they suffered serious injuries, or were taken against their will it would be very unfair for them to come back and find all their belongings gone.
Working with authorities
The law also recognizes that the property owner cannot wait indefinitely and they need to go on with the business of renting their premises. Bringing in the authorities sometimes yields results such as finding the missing person or their next of kin who can take the property or put it in storage. Police will usually tow away a car once they establish that the person in question is missing. Your goal should be to follow the procedures set out by the law to avoid liability.
Son-Rise Property Management has been serving the property management needs of Bellingham and Whatcom County since 1996. Contact us today to see how we can help you find a rental property for your family or manage your rental properties.