Hidden Treasure

I evicted Carolyn for nonpayment and she left a bunch of junk behind … inside and out.  Here’s what she left in back of the house:

My dilemma, as always, is what to do with the “leftovers.”  It’s usually obvious to me.  People tend to take what they want or need, and leave the rest for me to figure out.

In this case, Carolyn had cleared out all of her clothing, most of her dishes, and all the furniture that was in decent condition.  But even so, I did my due diligence and tried to contact her to ask her about the rest of what was left inside and out.  She didn’t respond and I had no forwarding address, so I moved to her two emergency contacts on her application.  I texted both of them and talked to one  of them, who gave me permission to remove the items.

Our Indiana law is ambiguous in this instance, but if you make every effort to contact the tenant re: items left behind and they don’t respond, you may consider the property “abandoned” and move on.

The only other option is to store their junk, which doesn’t make sense.  Of course, three days after I’d paid a hauler to get rid of her trash, Carolyn called me complaining that in the pile outside, there were precious, priceless Disney DVDs she treasured.  (Gimme a break.)

Fortunately, I had jumped through the necessary hoops to protect myself and never heard from her again.  In my 17+ years as a landlord, I’ve never had anyone take me to court over “treasures” I threw out after they moved.

And as for Carolyn’s valuable DVDs, I didn’t bother to ask why she’d left them outside, or left them at all, if they were so priceless.  Sometimes it’s just not worth going there with people!

Abandonment Issues

Over the past 15 years, I’ve done hundreds of evictions.  Unfortunately, some tenancies just don’t work out.  People get laid off, lose their jobs, get downsized, get sick, split up with their significant other, etc.  When these things happen, they don’t pay the rent.

Sometimes my tenant will promise to get the rent caught up within the next week or two. When this happens with your own tenants, you must judge the situation by what has happened in the past.  Have they gotten behind before?  Have they been forthright in paying you back quickly?  Do they maintain the apartment well?  If you’ve been happy with them as tenants and trust them implicitly, then go with your gut and work out a plan with them.  But don’t leave it open ended.  Put the plan in writing (signed by both of you) and if the tenant doesn’t deliver, go ahead and file the eviction.

On the other hand, when the writing is on the wall and you and the tenant know the end is in sight, it’s time to cut ties and move on.  I try to avoid filing eviction if possible,  thus saving myself the $81 filing fee and saving my tenant from having an eviction in his/her record.  If they can be out in a few days, I’ll often offer them $50 as incentive.  Dangling this carrot often works.  It gets them out quickly so I can do a quick turnaround and get the place rented.

Times are especially tough right now, and sometimes when people drop behind in the rent, they don’t choose to discuss it with the landlord at all.  They just leave.  This is one of those good news/bad news things.  It’s great to have them gone, which saves  me the time and money of filing eviction.  But it’s not always crystal clear whether they’ve really left or not.  Here are some clues that indicate they’ve abandoned the property:

  • Did any of the neighbors see them moving items out?
  • Is there any significant furniture left in the apartment?  Beds, couches, tables, etc?
  • If they had utilities in their name, are they still turned on?
  • Are their clothes/personal items gone?

If neighbors have seen them moving out, you can bet they’re not planning on staying.  Check out the remaining stuff in the apartment.  Is it mainly junk?  If their clothes are gone and there aren’t any sheets on the bed (if they left it) you’re pretty safe in calling this an abandoned property.  You may want to take pictures, just in case they come back and claim to have left grandma’s priceless china cabinet behind.  (In my 15 years, this has never happened to me but you should always watch your back.)

If you’re unsure about whether they’ve totally moved out, call them.  If you can’t get a response, call the contact numbers you have on their application.  Tell the contact you need to speak with the tenant, and that if you don’t hear from him you’ll have to assume he has abandoned the property.  Give them a date on which you’ll be changing the locks.  When in doubt, just file the eviction and go through the legal channels to ensure you’ll be protected by the law.

Landlord/tenant laws vary from state to state.  You may check them out by going to www.landlordstatelaws.com.   But do try to avoid evictions when possible . . . you’ll save the filing fee and (in IN) two week wait for the court date.  I can usually tell when a place has been abandoned and I’ve never been challenged on the issue.  Look at the details, take pictures, and move on.  A better tenant is just around the corner!    🙂