It is an unfortunate situation, but one that almost every Maryland property owner will encounter at some point: a tenant skips out on a lease, with seemingly no intention of returning to the rental property. While it can be tempting to fill the vacancy as soon as possible to avoid missing out on more revenue, you must, by law, follow certain procedures first.
The procedures for establishing abandonment, terminating the agreement, and starting the process of re-renting can vary by state, county, and even municipality. Maryland property managers would do well to know the rules surrounding tenant abandonment, Maryland rental laws, and the regulations surrounding ending a rental lease early. Here are some landlord tips that can help protect you from fines and potential legal actions against your enterprise, while refilling the vacancy as soon as possible.
Why Do Tenants Skip Out on Their Lease?
Tenants skip out on their lease for several reasons, and, generally, none are positive. Some examples include:
- They are so behind on unpaid rent and fees that they cannot get caught up, they don’t know how to get out of a rental lease early, or they do not want to face the eviction process Maryland requires by law.
- Some tenants may be concerned about a potential arrest warrant and leave ahead of police arriving at their home.
- Your tenant is in danger and vacated the premises because they feared for their safety. People in abusive relationships often flee without telling anyone, including landlords, for fear of discovery. Though less common, sometimes tenants are victims of criminal activity, such as kidnapping.
If you have any reason to believe your tenant’s disappearance is due to criminal misconduct, contact the local authorities immediately. Explain you are working on an abandoned property notice. Working together with local law enforcement will help ensure that you stay compliant with Maryland rental laws, and you do not run the risk of potentially tampering with a crime scene.
In most cases, a landlord will proceed with a tenant abandonment process under the assumption that the tenant made a conscious choice to leave the premises without letting the landlord know. If you believe this applies to your case, heed the following steps required of Maryland property managers to establish tenant abandonment so you can re-lease the property.
Maryland Rental Property Inspection Laws and Establishing Abandonment
A Maryland property management company cannot assume a property is abandoned simply because they have not heard from them, and they are behind on rent, even if it is a few months behind. In some cases, they could just be poor communicators who intend to pay back rent and any late fees. As such, it is essential to establish abandonment commensurate with your local requirements before re-leasing your property to another tenant.
General Tips for Establishing Abandonment
In some cases, establishing abandonment is simple. They may, for example, leave a note stating their intention never to return, or neighbors may witness them moving out. You may also try repeatedly to get in touch with the tenant, only to hear no response. These can all be a good basis for suspecting that a tenant has abandoned a property. Legally, however, they do not serve as a guarantee. A certified letter sent to the tenant residence, stating that the rental property has been abandoned, can be a good way to force a response from the non-responsive tenant. Though rules may vary slightly by the municipality, the following statewide regulations can help you establish rental property abandonment:
- Is the tenant behind on rent? Under Maryland law, a dwelling cannot be abandoned if the leasee is current on payments.
- Have the utilities been shut off? While this doesn’t necessarily establish abandonment on its own, it can help prove your case.
- Did the tenant leave anything behind? If the dwelling left behind important personal items or valuables, it is less likely to be abandoned. If the rental property maintenance is lacking and only garbage remains, it could be a case for abandonment.
- What did the neighbors see? If they saw a moving truck or the tenant seemingly vacating the premises, it could help support your claim.
- What about a change of address form? The local post office can help you determine if the tenant changed their physical mailing address.
- Have you tried getting ahold of your tenant’s emergency contact? They might be able to shed some light on the tenant’s current situation.
No single one of these factors necessarily establishes a dwelling as abandoned. In some cases, a tenant may seem to have abandoned the property but is actually in the hospital or even serving a short jail sentence. If they have not violated the lease terms, they still are technically in possession of the property.
Provide Official Notification to the Tenant
In accordance with Maryland state law, you must officially establish abandonment to terminate a lease. If you believe abandonment has occurred, provide an official property abandonment notice to the tenant stating that you think the premises have been abandoned. Then, give the tenant 15 days to respond to the notice. If they do not respond within that time frame, then you may take the appropriate steps to terminate the lease. Should a rental lease end early due to abandonment, the tenant will still owe any unpaid rent and fees.
Always use caution when dealing with abandoned property. Unless you take the appropriate steps to establish abandonment and provide an official rental lease termination letter, you cannot assume the property is vacant and re-lease. Failure to follow the proper abandon property laws could result in fines or court fees. Bay Property Management Group ALWAYS advises landlords to work with an attorney familiar with landlord-tenant laws when dealing with a disappearing tenant.
Beginning the Eviction Process
To formally establish abandonment and move onto another rental lease agreement, MD landlords must show the current renter is at least 30 days behind in payments. Beginning the legal eviction process as soon as possible can help. In some municipalities, you may be able to begin the Failure to Pay Rent eviction filing as soon as the 2nd of the month, though some counties, like Montgomery County, will not allow this until the 10th of the month.
Re-Leasing After Abandonment
The laws surrounding abandonment can be confusing for any Maryland property manager. To insulate yourself from risk, make sure your rental lease contains language that outlines how you establish abandonment.
Finally, an ironclad rental property application process and tenant screening reviews can help avoid these sticky situations in the future. Create a rental property checklist for prospective tenants, checking credit, debt to income ratio, history of evictions, references, and more. Simple rental property solutions like these can help keep your business on track. If you need help applying any of them to your rental property, contact Bay Property Management Group for help.