When Your Tenant Left Unexpectedly By Alvin Clavines

by Joe Thomas on April 21, 2010

What to do when things go wrong with renting? So if your tenant unexpectedly moves out, how are you going to deal with the tenant’s unannounced departure? Strange as it seem, it is not common for tenants to just move out without letting you know, and leaving you with a pile of his stuff behind. Sometimes tenants who are behind on the rent choose to leave their possessions as they think it is a cheaper way to deal with their unpaid rent.

In many states, your options when dealing with your tenants abandoned belongings depend on the circumstances of the tenants leaving. Your state may apply special procedures which will give you the right to keep the property for a certain period of time or make extra effort to find the tenant. One reason why the state impose this extra concern is to protect tenants who have not left their tenancy or their belongings, but have gone somewhere for a trip or vacation and just did not bother to inform you of their plan. The idea is to have the necessary time to confirm that the tenant is really gone for good, thus giving the tenant enough time to get their possessions, which would put the landlord in a better situation down the road.

State rules demanding landlord to store the properties their tenant has left behind also provides protection for the landlord. Following this procedure will prevent the tenant from suing the landlord for prematurely disposing of properties – this is before the tenant appears again and asks for the things he left.

What if the tenant just disappeared without paying his back rent or money for property damages? This scenario may prompt you to first take or sell valuable properties your tenant has left behind, and think of searching for the tenant later. This may seem to be good idea to at least get something back from what the tenant owes you, but this is a risky move in many states even if you have a court decision for money damages. Some states may give permission to the landlord to keep or sell the abandoned properties if their tenant has back rent or owes you money. In a particular legal term, you have an automatic lien on your tenants’ properties. This is different from the normal lien procedure that involves formally recording your claim or lien against the tenant’s belongings, then getting in line if others have filed upfront.

If your state law allows you a lien on your tenant’s belongings, it is important that you use it very carefully. Remember that you cannot just rely on your lien statute alone. Check out court cases as well. In most state law on lien, courts have included extra requirements, like providing for notice and giving the tenant and perhaps other creditors to have chance to be heard. It would be helpful if you read any cases that have interpreted your lien law, do legal research, or seek advice to the landlords’ association or lawyer.

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