One of the more unpleasant moments of property management is dealing with a potentially abandoned property. Depending on the amount of unpaid rent, the property left behind and the difficulty of confirming the facts of the situation, abandoned property scenarios can be awkward at best and extremely costly at worst. As property managers in Citrus Heights, we have found the following information useful in determining what to do if a tenant abandons the property.

Is the Property Really Abandoned?

In some cases, it can be clear that a tenant has abandoned a property. Neighbors may report seeing a moving truck. The apartment may be left empty or filled with only garbage. The tenant might have left a note explaining the abandonment.

However, in other cases, it may appear as if a tenant has abandoned a property, but it is not completely clear. For example, if the tenant has not been seen in weeks, is late in paying the rent, or seems unreachable, he may have abandoned the property. However, he might also be in the hospital, in jail, or out of town for some extended emergency or business.

If you find yourself in this gray area, make sure you keep an accurate and detailed record of all the clues to abandonment, double check lease agreements and local laws for abandonment requirements, and conduct extra research before taking any permanent actions.

Establishing Abandonment

If you’re uncertain that the property is truly abandoned, you’ll want to take some solid steps to prove the assumption to the best of your ability before repossessing the apartment. Before moving onto what to do if a tenant abandons the property, here are some ideas to establish true abandonment.

  • Interview neighbors. Spend some time talking with the former tenant’s neighbors. Be sure to document when and who you interviewed and what their responses included. Find out when the tenant was last seen and if anyone saw people moving belongings into a car or moving truck. Ask if anyone overheard conversations about moving out.
  • Call the utility companies. Tenants who have abandoned their properties will sometimes call to disconnect their utilities to avoid paying additional bills. Ask whether utilities were disconnected due to payment issues or if the tenant cancelled service. Document whom you spoke with, when calls were made and what responses were received.
  • Contact the post office. Tenants who are permanently moving will often request a change of address or at least providing forwarding information. Besides being one clue to whether or not your tenant is permanently gone, it may give you at least another chance at contacting the tenant.
  • Try all your contacts. Attempt to reach the tenant at all the phone numbers, e-mail addresses and snail mail addresses you have. Also, try to reach emergency contacts. Again, document all your efforts and their results.
  • Access the apartment. Most landlords have permission through lease agreements to enter apartments under certain circumstances. If you can do so legally, take a look inside the apartment and see if most of the person’s possessions are gone or if it looks like the tenant is planning on returning.

California Law

It’s important to check your state’s laws in determining what to do if a tenant abandons the property. In California, for instance, the civil code section 1951.3 permits landlords to take back their rental property when it is abandoned.

The state allows you to make a reasonable assumption of abandonment when you have evidence of overdue rent, cancelled utilities, closets and refrigerators that are empty, and neighbors who have witnessed the tenant moving out.

Once you have conducted and documented your research and the rent is more than 14 days past due, you can file a Notice of Belief of Abandonment in California. Here is where you summarize the reasons you believe the property is abandoned and tell the tenant that you will assume abandonment unless he or she contacts you within 18 days. Be sure you keep copies of all correspondence before mailing paperwork to the tenant and his or her emergency contacts.

Steps To Reclaim Property

Once you are certain that the tenant has left and is not returning, here is what to do if a tenant abandons the property. In California, after 18 days have passed once the Notice of Belief of Abandonment has been filed, you are allowed to enter the abandoned property and change locks and security codes.

Take a look at your property and inspect it for damages. Unpaid rent and costs for damages can be taken from the tenant’s security deposit. Document this financial summary and send it to your former tenant.

In addition, if the tenant has left any property in the unit, make a list of the items and send this list to the tenant as well. In California, the law says that landlords must safely relocate and store the property, notify the former tenant and his or her contacts, and offer at least 18 days for the tenant to come and reclaim his property. The law requires that the tenant pays a storage fee in exchange for his property. If a property goes unclaimed, California law requires that anything worth more than $300 must be put up at a public auction. Summarize this information and send it to the former tenant.

Once the former tenant’s property is managed, you’ll simply want to clean and repair the apartment and get it ready for the next tenant. Our property management company in Citrus Heights can help you market, manage and maintain your rental properties easily and affordably.