When your tenant abandons the lease

What do you do when your tenant seems to have up and vanished without any kind of warning?

Lease abandonment is a fairly common problem for landlords. You need to know how to handle the issue so that you don't end up in litigation.

Tenants usually disappear for one of several reasons:

  • They're behind on the rent and moving out in the middle of the night seemed like a better option than facing you.

  • They've decided to move for some reason (like a new job or to move in with a romantic partner) and they don't want to pay the cost of the remaining lease or any fees for breaking the lease (and they're hoping you won't track them down).

  • They've had some kind of emergency that caused them to abruptly leave (like a stalking situation) and they are afraid to leave a forwarding address.

  • They're the victim of an accident or crime (in which case, you need to work with the police before you tamper with anything that might be considered evidence).

Here's the thing to remember: Even if the property is totally empty, you can't automatically assume that the tenant has abandoned the place -- especially if the rent is current.

If you're lucky, you'll find a note and keys slipped under the door of the management office and can use that to establish abandonment so that you can clean the place up and get it re-rented quickly. More than likely, however, you're going to have to go through the formal steps of evicting the tenant -- otherwise, you could find yourself sued for locking the tenant out of his or her home and destroying any property that remains on the premises.

Hopefully, your lease covers tenant abandonment and has provisions that will give you some direction. Either way, however, it's wisest to work with a real estate attorney to resolve the issue before you take the next step.