Even with the best screening process in the world, sometimes tenants abandon ship with no warning — leaving landlords with an empty rental property and empty pockets.
When a tenant abandons your rental property, they forfeit their rights to have access to the house. If you’re confident that your tenants have abandoned your rental property, you can change the locks, and in some states, you can even throw their belongings out too.
If, on the other hand, you aren’t sure if your tenant has abandoned the property or not, you should refrain from changing the locks. If your lease allows it, you can enter the premises to find out, but be sure to knock first. If the tenant has abandoned the house, they will have likely turned off the utilities, and the property will probably have only a few furnishings in it. A good point of reference is to check the bedrooms — are there any sheets on the beds? If not it’s likely that the tenants have left and don’t intend to come back. You could also try asking the neighbors if they have spoken to them lately, or reach out to their emergency contacts if they provided you with anyone.
If you enter the home and find all of the tenant’s belongings there and the utilities turned on, there is a good chance they haven’t abandoned it after all. Sometimes there are innocuous reasons as to why it may seem like a tenant has left a rental property, such as if they were taken sick in the hospital, got into trouble with law enforcement and were arrested. It is important to make a concerted effort to find out if your tenant has abandoned your property before you decide your next step.
It’s important to note that some states have laws regarding the presumption of abandonment, such as the law in the state of Florida which states that it can be assumed the tenant has abandoned the property if he or she is absent for a period of time that equals one-half of the time for periodic rental payment — and the rent is not up-to-date, and the tenant has given the landlord notice of his or her absence in writing.
If you have found your rental property empty and your tenants nowhere to be found, you probably have grounds to claim abandonment. If you choose to go this route, you must keep a record of the abandonment, such as pictures of the home deserted, and any other evidence you may have. You should also give the tenant a written notice stating where their belongings are (if they left anything).
If you really aren’t sure whether your tenants have abandoned your property or not, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Consult your landlord-tenant attorney for advice, or if necessary, begin the eviction process to evict them officially. Although this may be more costly than just changing the locks, it’s a lot cheaper than the legal fees to defend against a lawsuit from your tenant.