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How To Handle a Tenant Who Skipped Out On a Lease

skipped out lease tenant

Ideally, when a tenant decides to move on, they provide the landlord with ample notice per the terms of their lease. However, owning and managing a rental property is not always so simple. Occasionally a tenant may break the lease or abandon the property with no evidence of an intent to return. So, while it is tempting to refill the vacancy as soon as possible, owners must, by law, follow certain procedures first. Keep in mind, the process for handling a tenant skip may vary from location to location, and understanding the rules is vital. So, check out our best tips and strategies below for dealing with tenants who skip out on their lease.

Common Reasons Some Tenants Skip Out on Their Lease

It is hard to say for sure why every tenant decides to skip on a lease instead of following the guidelines of their lease. However, some common reasons experts in the industry agree on, and generally, none are positive. Some examples include –

  • Unpaid Rent – If the tenants are so behind on rent and fees that they cannot get caught up, they may opt to leave and avoid eviction.
  • Change in Circumstance – Whether it is a bad break-up, job relocation, or just a change in circumstances, some tenants choose to leave over giving proper notice or paying lease break fees.
  • Criminal Activity – Some tenants may be concerned about a potential arrest warrant and leave before the police arrive at their homes.
  • Safety – The tenant may be or feel in danger in some way and flee the premises as a result—for example, domestic violence situations or victims of other criminal activity.

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 potential tampering with a crime scene.

However, more commonly, the tenant has simply chosen to leave, and landlords should proceed with the tenant abandonment process under that assumption. Whatever the reason for the tenant skipping out, landlords have certain responsibilities and steps to follow before releasing the unit.

How to Establish Abandonment of a Rental Property

In many states, a property management company cannot assume a property is abandoned simply because they have not heard from the tenant. There is a chance your tenants have a reasonable explanation for the inconsistent or non-existent communication. For example, they may be in the hospital, out of town caring for family, in jail, or have changed their contact information.

In some cases, establishing abandonment is straightforward. Perhaps the tenants left a note stating their intent not to return, or maybe a neighbor witnessed them moving out. As a landlord, if you cannot get in touch with the tenants, it is reasonable to suspect the property may be abandoned.

That said, legally, these scenarios do not serve as proof of tenant abandonment. As such, it is essential to establish abandonment by following the local jurisdiction’s requirements wherever your rental property is located. Following statewide regulations can help you establish rental property abandonment and allow you to re-lease the unit as soon as possible. Let’s review some of these requirements for Maryland landlords below –

Proving Rental Property Abandonment Under Maryland Law

 Is the tenant behind on rent? – Under Maryland law, a dwelling cannot be abandoned if the lessee is current on payments.

  1. Have the utilities been shut off? – While this doesn’t necessarily establish abandonment on its own, it can help landlords prove their case.
  2. Did the tenant leave anything behind? – If the dwelling contains important personal items or valuables left behind by the tenant, it is less likely to be abandoned. On the other hand, if the rental property maintenance is lacking and only garbage remains, it could be a case for abandonment.
  3. What did the neighbors see? – If they saw a moving truck or the tenant seemingly vacating the premises, it could help support your claim.
  4. What about a change of address form? – The local post office can help you determine if the tenant changed their physical mailing address.
  5. 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 factor necessarily establishes a dwelling as abandoned. If the tenant has not violated any lease terms, they still are technically in possession of the property. So, it is important to follow all stages of confirming a true case of rental abandonment.

How to Reclaim Your Rental Property After Tenant Skip

As we mentioned above, reclaiming possession of your rental property requires following several steps. Keep in mind that failing to do so could lead to fines, damages, or legal problems for landlords. So, if you are dealing with a non-responsive tenant, follow along with these basic procedures below.

Serve Official Notification to the Tenant

For Maryland landlords, you must officially establish abandonment to terminate a lease. Therefore, if you believe abandonment is likely, serve an official property abandonment notice to the tenant. This certified letter should state that you believe the premises were abandoned. Then, give the tenant 15 days to respond to the notice before taking further action.

If tenants do not respond within that time frame, proceed with the appropriate steps to terminate the lease. Keep in mind, even if a tenant abandons the property, they still owe any unpaid rent, damages, and fees.

It is important to use caution when dealing with abandoned property. Failing to follow the legal requirements to establish abandonment or serve proper notice could result in more delays and costly legal fees for the owner. At Bay Property Management Group, we recommend consulting a qualified attorney when dealing with a disappearing tenant.

Follow Through with the Eviction Process

Typically, landlords must show the current renter is at least 30 days behind in payments to establish abandonment and move onto another lease agreement formally. However, beginning the legal eviction process as soon as possible can help regain control of the property to begin marketing.

In some municipalities, landlords may be able to begin a Failure to Pay Rent eviction filing as soon as the 2nd of the month. However, check with your local jurisdiction for specific rules. Let’s quickly review the common steps of the eviction process below –

Eviction Process in Maryland

  1. Communication – Try to reach out to the tenant through any contacts you have. This could include phone, email, text, mail, or an emergency contact when all else fails.
  2. Serve Notice – As mentioned above, the next step is to serve notice to the tenant. Allow the tenant 15 days to respond and state that the next step will be eviction if you do not receive a response. That said, ensure the posted notice is in a visible location on the property, like the front door.
  3. Landlord and Tenant Complaint – If the tenant does not reach out regarding the abandonment notice, the next step is court. This involves filing a formal complaint with the district court to regain possession of the property. When filing, the court clerk processes the complaint along with any other supporting evidence.
  4. Attend the Eviction Trial – After the complaint is processed, the court issues a trial date where each party has the opportunity to present their version of the facts. Keep in mind; if the tenant abandoned the unit, they might not appear. However, make sure you attend the trial and bring any documents proving you have a valid reason to evict the tenant. After hearing the facts, the judge will make their decision. Ideally, the court will rule in the landlord’s favor and grant possession back to the owner.

 What Happens to Abandoned Property After Tenant Skip?

Even if a tenant abandoned the property, they likely took their belongings with them when they went. However, sometimes, belongings remain that are not obvious trash or debris. Every state or jurisdiction potentially has its own rules on what to do with abandoned property. So, always take time to research any applicable laws in your area.

That said, even if local laws allow a landlord to dispose of the property, it is a good idea to keep a record of what was left. We suggest that landlords –

  • Create a List – It is beneficial to document any items that may be left on the property. If, for some reason, the tenant claims you stole items or makes any claim against you, a detailed list is helpful.
  • Keep Visual Evidence – Along with a written list of abandoned property, take photographic evidence to document each item’s condition. This is an easy step to complete in conjunction with a move-out inspection.
  • Do Not Simply Throw Things Out – Each location may have laws that govern if or how owners can dispose of a tenant’s abandoned property. So, before getting rid of anything, double-check local laws.

Efficient Marketing to Limit Vacancy Time

Every day a property sits abandoned, owners are losing money. Therefore, following all necessary steps and taking measures to protect yourself are key. After all, 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. Moreover, an ironclad rental property application process and tenant screening reviews can help avoid these sticky situations in the future. Finally, create a rental property checklist that allows you to clearly record the detailed condition of the home before and after move-in. This is essential for determining what, if any, of the tenant’s deposit an owner can withhold for damages.

Then, once you regain lawful possession of the property, getting it on the market is a huge priority. When it comes to managing property turnover and targeted marketing efforts, Bay Property Management Group can help. Our experienced team can apply time-tested rental solutions to maximize your investment’s potential while working to limit vacancy time. So, if you would like to learn how full-service rental management can help you, contact Bay Property Management Group today.