Unreturned phone calls, text messages without answers and, often, at least a month’s worth of unpaid rent. These are usually the tell-tale signs that your tenant has abandoned their rented property. It can be stressful and frustrating when a tenant disappears without notice before the tenancy has ended. Such a situation can also deal a blow to your finances – whether or not the tenant was behind with their payments. Under such circumstances, you may feel pressured to start looking for a new tenant right away.
When a tenant disappears for a prolonged period of time without informing their landlord, it may constitute a breach of the lease agreement and count as abandonment. However, before a landlord can change the locks and embark on a search for a new tenant, they need to find out whether the previous tenant has truly abandoned the property. Read on to learn what constitutes tenant abandonment in Florida and what your obligations as a landlord are if you’re ever faced with this issue.
What Constitutes Abandonment?
According to Florida law, a landlord can assume that a tenant has abandoned the property if:
- the tenant has been absent for longer than half the time of periodic rental payment
- the rent is not current (or, in other words, the rent is due)
- the tenant has not notified the landlord about their prolonged absence
It should be noted that this criteria is established pursuant to Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes, so if you are a landlord renting a lot to a tenant in a manufactured home community, this abandonment provision would not apply to you.
Landlord’s Obligation in Case of Abandonment
Provided that the conditions mentioned above are met, a landlord can then take actions to minimize financial losses by re-renting the property. A landlord may enter the abandoned property to perform any necessary improvements and repairs. The landlord may also change the locks and collect the old tenant’s belongings.
Importantly, however, according to Florida law, a landlord may not simply dispose of the old tenant’s property without first attempting to reach the tenant. The landlord would have to provide the tenant with written notice and an opportunity to recover the abandoned property. A tenant has 10-15 days to retrieve property, depending on how the notice is delivered to the tenant. After that period, the landlord may dispose of, retain, or resell the property.
If the value of the property left behind by the former tenant is worth at least $500.00, a special procedure must be followed. Specifically, the property must be sold at public sale by competitive bidding. The sale must be advertised in a newspaper of general circulation for at least two weeks and take place at least 10 days after the initial publication.
Importantly, the landlord cannot retain the full amount of proceeds from such sale. Rather, after deducting any costs related to the storage, advertisement, sale, etc., the remaining proceeds must be returned to the former tenant. If attempts to contact the tenant prove to be unfruitful, the proceeds must go to the clerk of court in the county where the property was abandoned.
As shown above, dealing with an issue related to a troublesome tenant can be more complicated than it initially seems. In order to avoid any legal liability, a landlord is usually required to follow statutory procedures. That is why before taking any action regarding a tenant, it is better to first consult an experienced attorney. If you have any questions with regard to a matter related to your tenant, please contact Atlas Law – a landlord’s advocate.