In a recent article I mentioned how I interviewed a very experienced property manager. I asked her about some of the challenges she faces, including the topic mentioned in the title of this article. It’s really unpleasant to learn that a resident has suddenly disappeared without giving proper notice. This long-time veteran of property management surprised me with her first response. “Chances of this happening are very low if you’ve screened the resident well to begin with. Also, it’s a good idea to let all your residents know that if they see neighbors moving out to call you.” This let’s all your residents know that there are deterrents, and that abandoning their rental unit is not a viable option. “Educate your residents on better solutions then abandoning their units.” In other words, as the saying goes, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed!”
One tenant called her recently because she saw that the utility company was shutting off her neighbor’s water. Sure enough, the apartment looked abandoned. Later that evening the residents arrived with a moving truck to take the rest of their belongings. Again the neighbor called and the property manager confronted the residents before they’d absconded. “Know the laws in the state and region you manage in concerning this topic. It’s a case-by-case decision if an actual abandonment has occurred,” she admonished. “Know the circumstances too. The resident may be in the hospital, on vacation, attending to a death in the family or imprisoned,” which she says is easy to overlook.
Another key point she made was, “Communicate with everybody. Try to reach the resident, call their place of employment, their emergency contact numbers, neighbors or references. Ask everyone to encourage the abandoning resident to call you, but don’t tell the reasons why to protect their privacy.” If you suspect they aren’t going to return, post a 24 hour notice to enter and go in with a key. Check the refrigerator, bathroom cabinets and cupboards for personal items. Take dated photos of how the unit looked from the moment you walked in. If the utilities are still on and they’ve left furnishings it may mean they intend to return. Ask other residents to notify you immediately if they see them, and if allowed by law, consider offering a reward of some kind.
She continued, “If an eviction is in progress, and you’ve tried to reach the resident unsuccessfully, let the eviction run its course. If I have determined that the unit is vacated, even if there are personal belongings left inside, I ‘post and mail’ a certified letter with a 15-day Notice of Abandonment. In my area you have to wait 18 days before declaring the unit abandoned and vacant.” “What do you do if they’ve left behind most of their belongings?” I asked. “I attempt to contact the resident after I’ve determined the approximate value of the items left,” she replied.
“I give them 48 hours to come and remove what they want. My employee or I meet them and stay the entire time they’re moving their items so they don’t attempt to re-take occupancy of the unit.” The local laws where most of her rental units are located allow that if the items left behind are estimated to be under $300 in value, the property manager can dispose of them after 15 days. If items are more valuable, they can be sold after placing a proper public notice. Items can also be stored, and the owners of the abandoned unit can charge reasonable costs for moving items left behind, as well as any costs relating to the advertising and disposal of those items. Proceeds from the sale of personal belongings in the abandoned unit usually can be claimed to offset rent owed.
Again, make sure you as the property manager are aware of the local ordinances regarding your rights to recover owed rent and other expenses. In some areas the resident has up to one year to reclaim their items, so be careful. For more generalized guidelines and points to ponder check out web sites like Legal Aid organizations. A good example can be found by clicking here.