Can a landlord take possession of an abandoned property?

Written on January 16, 2019 by , updated on December 3, 2019

Can a landlord take over an abandoned propertyThe answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Landlords can most definitely take over abandoned property.

The real question, though, is how?

Even if you have a signed lease with your tenant, they don’t always stay the entire lease term. Things happen:

  • Maybe they could no longer afford rent.
  • They found a better job elsewhere.
  • They are in jail.
  • They are in the hospital.

Whatever the reason, if your tenant left without telling you, they have left you with an abandoned property.

It’s never a good idea to have an abandoned property. For one, you’re probably not collecting rent. You can sue your ex-tenant for rent until you find a new tenant—that is if you can find your ex-tenant.

Related: 6 ways to find your deadbeat ex-tenants

Another reason abandoned property is not good is that it opens your property up to the possibilities of squatters, vandals, water damage, and fire.

Related: Risks of leaving a property vacant

I have a clause in my lease that states what happens if the tenants will be gone for just seven days:

There is no question that you can and should take control of your abandoned property, but you can’t just start re-keying and tossing out your ex-tenants’ belongings.

Why not?

Your tenant might have left but had every intention of returning to the property. If you took possession in that instance, your tenant could claim wrongful eviction, and you might need to pay damages.

Here’s what to do if you suspect your tenant abandoned your property.

Determine whether the property is truly abandoned:

Unless your tenant told you they were moving out early, you can’t necessarily be sure they abandoned the property just because no one’s been home for a few days or even weeks. Assuming they abandoned the property is not the same as knowing they abandoned the property. Here are some ways to tell.

1. Your tenant is still paying rent

If your tenant continues to pay rent, even though they haven’t been living there for a while, it means the place is not abandoned. In this case, it’s best to contact your tenant to find out what’s going on. If they are away for an extended time, let them know that you or your representative will need to check on the place every week or so until they return. It’s unsafe to leave a property vacant. If your tenant has stopped paying rent and is gone, they might have abandoned the property.

2. Speak with the emergency contacts

This is one of the times to call the emergency contacts listed on your application. Let them know your concerns and ask if they know whether your tenant has moved out.

3. Ask the neighbors

Maybe one of the neighbors saw your tenant moving out.

4. Check to see whether the utilities are off

Give your tenant 24-hours’ notice that you will come in. If you hear back, you can ask what’s going on. But if you don’t get a response, come over and check all the utilities. If they are off, it’s a sign the place might be abandoned.

5. Check for garbage and old food

If the place has old garbage and rotting food in it, you have found another sign that your tenant might have abandoned the property.

What to do with abandoned personal property left behind

If there are valuables such as clothing and furniture still in the unit, the place might not be abandoned. But then again, it might. In this case, you need to get in touch with the tenant. Notify them to pick up their property by a certain date. If they don’t get it by that date, let them know that you will dispose of it, donate it, or keep it for yourself.

Related: What to Do with Abandoned Personal Property

Once you determine the place is abandoned:

If your tenant has stopped paying rent, their emergency contacts told you your tenant has moved, the utilities are off, and nothing is left in the rental, you can probably determine that your tenant abandoned the property. Here’s what to do.

1.  Send a letter

Send your tenant a letter notifying them they have 10 days to let you know whether they have abandoned the rental unit. If you have not heard from them, you will declare the property abandoned.

2. Take photos

Take photos of the property that demonstrate why you think the place has been abandoned, such as lack of furniture or an overgrown lawn.

3. Document and describe the situation

Document the reasons you believe the place has been abandoned, such as not receiving rent or finding that the utilities have been turned off. Note the date of the last rent payment you received.

4. Record your conversations with the neighbors

Keep a record of any interviews you had with emergency contacts or neighbors.

5. Use USPS certified mail

Send all communication to your tenant through certified mail to prove you tried to contact them about whether they have moved and about picking up their belongings.

It’s never fun to find that your property has been abandoned. Your job now is to mitigate your losses by doing something about it. Take back your property as soon as possible, but make sure you do so the right way.

It’s best to have a lease clause that addresses abandonment issues. But whether you have such a lease clause or not, take the necessary steps to document your reasons for taking back your property.

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11 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Roselyn Brito


  • Greg

    I have a question I notified my landlord 9 days ago that I was moving out I am behind on rent but I moved for a better job so I could get them paid yet they are declaring the place abandoned can they do this. I did not put it in writing but I have people who saw me talking to him on the date I gave notice.

  • Stacy

    Tenant has not paid rent for over 8 months. I have not been able to contact tenant for 2 months. She has not been living there for 2 months. I am not getting a response from the Last known number I have for the tenant. Tenants mother had said they would be getting her belongings out over a month ago. Now she also is not responding to my messages. Most of the tenants possessions have been removed. I know the water has been shut off and I believe now the electricity. I have a notice to leave the premises letter ready to send to the rental address but pretty sure she will not get it. What should I do next?

    • Deanna harris

      Tennant is one month behind on rent and utilities., will not answer phone or text messages. No other contact. Furniture, trash, food is still in the house. What can i do

  • Julie

    Tenant moved out under stipulated agreement to avoid eviction proceedings. They are now living somewhere else but have not returned keys. Can I start cleaning apartment?

  • Isabel Lowry

    An amazing piece of information! Thanks for sharing!
    If the property is abandoned for long days, verify whether tenant has left the property or not. For confirmation, you can check tenant’s current postal address, ask neighbors whether they saw tenant or member of tenant’s family, etc. Once you confirmed that tenant has vacated the property, conduct a home inspection to learn damages left by the tenant. Thereafter you can recover damage repairing cost from tenant or deduct it from their security deposit if its legal in your state.
    To know more, visit, SGP Now:

  • Mitchell

    Tennant went to jail and has been gone 2 months what am I aloud to do with his things cause his parents wont come and get it it’s been 17 days since they were told to come and get it

    • Julia Navarrette

      Tenant jailed over a month. Children removed by family members. Apartment abandoned. No forwarding address. How do I go forward in reclaiming my property?

  • susana duarte

    We have a tenant that gave Notice in February that they would be moving out March 16th, He asked for a 1 week extension which I gave him… Then the stay at home order due to Covid 19 came into play. The tenant had moved back with his mother in Boston since January and had been paying rent for January and February. In March he refused to pay rent and asked to use his security deposit. I said No but he contends that I allowed him to use his deposit for the March rent…which was short by 300.00. He has not paid for April and his belongings are still in the unit. The stay at home order is lifted May 5 in Boston…although I have no idea when he plans on collecting his belongins. What can I do?

  • Joseph Gyang Pwol

    Tenant has moved out with 2months areas in rent but yet to submit keys to apartment. What do you suggest I do now that he is not reachable.

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