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When and How to Issue a Notice of Abandonment as a Landlord

January 11, 2024

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Notice Of Abandonment

Dealing with unresponsive tenants can be a significant source of frustration for landlords. Whether there’s an issue about rent, late fees, or another crucial matter, communication is essential to a healthy landlord-tenant relationship. 

But what happens when a tenant goes silent and communication breaks down completely? If the tenant cannot be found at the rental property for some time, it may be time to send a notice of abandonment. 

In this article, we will delve into the challenges landlords face when tenants appear to abandon the rental property. From determining when a unit is considered abandoned to the proper procedures for sending a notice of abandonment and eventually repossessing the property, we’ll guide you through the necessary steps in handling this complex situation. 

What is a Notice of Abandonment? 

A Notice of Abandonment is a formal letter from a landlord to a tenant who has appeared to abandon a rental property. It explains that the landlord has reasonable evidence of abandonment and asks the tenant to either reach out by a certain date or their lease will be terminated. An abandonment notice also typically explains what will happen to the tenant’s personal belongings if they do not come to claim them. 

When Is a Notice of Abandonment Used? 

A Notice of Abandonment is used in a few circumstances: 

  • The tenant moved out of the property before the lease ended without notifying the landlord. 
  • The tenant has not paid rent, shows signs of abandonment, and is unresponsive to attempts at communication. 
  • The lease has ended but the tenant abandons personal belongings (Notice of Abandonment of Property).  

How do you know that a unit has been abandoned? Signs of abandonment include: 

  • The tenant suddenly stops paying rent. This might indicate that they don’t intend to live in the unit anymore, but further investigation is necessary. 
  • Neighbors report signs of moving out. If a neighbor observed a moving truck outside the property, chances are the tenant is gone. You can also ask neighbors when the last time they saw the tenant was. 
  • Exterior overgrowth. If the tenant is responsible for maintaining the lawn, landscaping, etc. and hasn’t done so in several months, they may have moved out without notifying you. 
  • The tenant doesn’t respond to messages. Landlords should try all methods of contact to get in touch with the tenant (e.g., email, phone, mail). If the tenant doesn’t respond, they may have moved on. 
  • Clear signs upon inspection. Most landlords conduct inspections from time to time. If you enter a unit and find that most of the tenant’s property (furniture, beds, food, etc.) is gone, the tenant is probably gone too. 
  • Lowered utility costs. If the tenant’s heat, water, electricity, etc. decrease substantially, this might be evidence of abandonment. 
  • Admission of abandonment. A tenant may tell you they’re no longer living in the rental unit. In this case, an early termination fee may be applied. 

Why Send a Notice of Abandonment at All? 

There are several good reasons, legal and otherwise, why landlords should send written notice of abandonment of property when they suspect that a unit has been abandoned. Here are the reasons why it is necessary to send notice before attempting to repossess a property: 

  1. Fulfill state legal obligations. In many cities and states, sending a notice of abandonment before repossessing a property is the law. 
  1. Ensure the property is occupied. Rental properties should be occupied as many months of the year as possible. Vacant units are vulnerable to squatters, wild animals, and other dangers. If your property doesn’t have any full-time residents, you want to know as soon as possible. 
  1. Find a new tenant if the previous one stopped paying rent. In many cases, a tenant who has abandoned their unit will also simply stop paying rent, without telling you. They may not want to pay the fees associated with terminating their lease early. In this case, a Notice of Abandonment needs to be sent so that you can rent the unit to a rent-paying tenant and maintain rental income. 
  1. Return the tenant’s personal property. Tenants will often leave behind furniture and personal belongings when abandoning a property. A Notice of Abandonment of Property alerts the tenant to this fact and gives them a chance to claim their belongings before they are thrown out or sold (note: Most states have laws governing how many days’ notice you must provide and what you can do with abandoned items). 
  1. Prevent tenant lawsuits. Sending a notice before taking any action gives the tenant an opportunity to reach out and explain why they abandoned the property. If you sell a tenant’s personal property prematurely, they may sue you. Tenants could also file a lawsuit if they had to move out because of a health or safety issue that you did not address in a timely manner. To cover all your bases, be sure to reach out to the tenant before moving their belongings. 

How to Write a Notice of Abandonment Form 

What should be included in a notice of abandonment form? At minimum, it should include the following: 

  • Today’s date 
  • The landlord and tenant’s names and contact information 
  • The address of the rental property 
  • An introduction explaining the landlord’s reasons for believing that the unit has been abandoned 
  • The last date that rent was paid and the amount currently overdue 
  • An inventory of any abandoned belongings 
  • Instructions for claiming personal property left behind 
  • Consequences for failing to respond to the notice (e.g., the date on which the tenant must respond to avoid eviction). 
  • A way to contact the landlord or property manager with questions 
  • The landlord’s signature 

A Notice of Abandonment should be detailed but clear and to the point. Don’t bother with apologetic language or extra encouragement to reply. The notice should be professional, since the tenant agreed to the consequences when they signed the lease agreement. 

All notices should be written and served/posted directly to the rental unit. They can also be sent to the tenant’s other last known address (if one is known), their email, or another method of contact. When mailing a Notice of Abandonment, be sure to do so by certified mail, return receipt requested. In the case that a tenant takes you to court, this receipt serves as evidence that due diligence was given.  

Repossessing the Property 

Each state has their own laws dictating what a landlord must do to repossess an abandoned property.  

It’s not as simple as getting rid of the tenant’s belongings and changing the locks. Most states require landlords to formally evict the tenant (even if the tenant is not present at the court hearing and does not respond to the summons). This process takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, although it may be expedited in some states (such as Ohio). 

Be sure you check the local and state laws that apply where the rental property is located. Learn as much as you can about the eviction process and special rules that may apply when eviction is due to abandonment. The good news is that if you’ve documented clear evidence of abandonment, you shouldn’t have trouble receiving a court order for repossession. It does, however, require some patience and diligence with filling out the necessary paperwork. 

What Should Landlords Do with Abandoned Belongings? 

Once again, the answer to this question varies by state. In some states (like Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, and others), landlords are required to store abandoned belongings at an off-site storage facility until the tenant can retrieve it or until a certain length of time has passed. In other states, landlords can store left personal property at the rental unit for a certain length of time, after which items can be sold, kept, donated, or thrown away. Most states require landlords to send proper notice before continuing with the abandonment process. The bottom line is to carefully review your state’s statutes for information about what to do with abandoned personal property. 

Conclusion 

Navigating a potentially abandoned property requires a strategic and informed approach. While unresponsive tenants can be a considerable challenge, understanding the legal definition of abandonment in your state and following the associated laws and regulations can make the journey to repossession simpler and faster. If you act quickly once you notice signs of abandonment, filling the unit with a new, responsible tenant will follow soon after. 

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