by Attorney William Bronchick
Have you ever had a tenant leave in the middle of the night or the middle of an eviction? Did you ever wonder what to do when the tenant abandons the property?
Basically when a tenant abandons the property, you do not need to file an eviction or wait for the sheriff. You can change the locks. As for the tenant’s stuff, in some states you can simply toss it. You should check your state or local law to see what your legal obligation is to store the items for the tenant.
If you are not certain whether the tenant has abandoned the property, you should not change the locks. If you have the keys and your lease allows it, you could enter the premises, but KNOCK FIRST. Whether or not the tenant has abandoned is often a judgment call, looking at a combination of factors, such as:
- Did the neighbors see them move?
- Are the utilities shut off?
- Did the tenant put in a change of address at the post office?
- Is there any significant furniture left?
- If you have access, are there sheets on the beds?
In some cases, the tenant has been arrested or is in the hospital, which would explain why he hasn’t been around. Or, maybe the tenant has moved, but left behind some furniture to pick up later on. Even if the tenant is not sleeping there, they are still “in possession” if they have their personal belongings in the unit and have not shown an intent to abandon these items.
Some states have specific laws regarding PRESUMPTIONS of abandonment. For example, Connecticut law states:
Sec. 47a–11b. Abandonment of unit by occupants. Landlord’s remedies.
(a) For the purposes of this section, “abandonment” means the occupants have vacated the premises without notice to the landlord and do not intend to return, which intention may be evidenced by the removal by the occupants or their agent of substantially all of their possessions and personal effects from the premises and either
(1) nonpayment of rent for more than two months or
(2) an express statement by the occupants that they do not intend to occupy the premises after a specified date.
Florida law (Florida Statute § 83.59(3)(c)), on the other hand says that a tenant has abandoned the dwelling when he or she is absent from the property for a period of time equal to one-half the time for periodic rental payment, as long as the rent is not current and the tenant has not notified the landlord of his or her absence in writing. The law further requires that the landlord give written notice to the tenant that he is holding their stuff.
If you do intend to claim abandonment, take pictures, gather evidence and cover all bases to prepare for a possible wrongful lockout claim. Definitely give the tenant notice in writing where you have stored their stuff (if you have anything) and give them adequate time to come get it. If you have ANY doubts, call your landlord–tenant attorney and do the proper legal eviction proceeding.
Or, here’s another possibility…
BRIBE THE TENANTS TO LEAVE!!
If the tenant has NOT abandoned, or you aren’t sure, or you messed up and they are coming back for their stuff, you should consider giving “Cash for Keys” to bribe the tenant to give up possession. While not deserving if they are behind in rent, it is smart BUSINESS because you avoid an eviction and possible damage to the property by the tenant. If you DO this, however, make CERTAIN you get the tenant to sign a RELEASE OF LIABILITY FORM. This form, when signed by the tenant, will waive their rights to sue you for ANYTHING (even if you messed up and they have a claim).
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