If you own a rental property, you have probably seen it all. It can be a lot of work to manage a property, and things like evicting tenants, fixing the damage, and sorting out disputes over changes to the property can be complex. One of the challenges that can crop up less frequently is tenant abandonment.
If you have never dealt with this issue, you might need to make sure that you have a skilled lawyer working on your side. There are various reasons why having legal support can make a difference, especially if the tenant owes you back rent, never returned the keys, or if they decide that they want to move back into the property.
Abandoned properties almost always require repairs and other services as well, so you do not want to be worried about having to fight with the former tenants while you take care of these needs.
If you own a rental property and think that your tenant has abandoned it, you will need to keep reading to see what you can do about this situation in the state of Maine.
How Long Before a Property is Considered Abandoned in Maine?
One of the first signs that your tenant has decided to abandon the property might be that they return the keys without any indication about paying rent that is due or renewing a lease or rental contract.
Other signs might be that the tenant provides notice by mail after they have removed all of their personal items from the property. Absence alone might not indicate abandonment, which is one of the reasons that having a skilled legal team on your side can make a big difference in these cases.
Always make sure that you do not violate the contract that you have with the tenant and invade the home, looking to see if someone is living there. You will still need to go through the normal process to notify the tenant that you intend to come and look at the property before you can show up and investigate the situation.
If rent remains unpaid, you might have cause to take the property back from the renter under the assumption that they have abandoned the property. If you haven’t seen the tenant in a few weeks, they may be on vacation though, so use caution here.
Your rental agreement and the law will govern the non-payment of rent process. Rent in Maine is considered to be late when it has not been paid for 15 days past the stated due date. You will need to deliver a 7-day notice to pay to the renter. This tells the renter that they have 7 days to pay the overdue rent before they are evicted from the property.
You must deliver these documents and post notice on the property if you cannot reach the tenants before you are allowed to consider the property abandoned. Make sure that you are not in violation of any stated time periods for rent payment or conflict resolution that are laid out in your rental agreement as well.
Having your rental contract align with state law is the norm, but some rental agreements will have special clauses in them which must be honored before the property can be considered abandoned.
What About Personal Property That Has Been Left Behind?
In some cases, the tenants will leave behind their personal items. This can lead to another question with regard to the legal right of the landlord to remove these items from the property so it can be rented again. In the state of Maine, unclaimed property has to be left in place for a specific amount of time before it can be claimed.
If the property in question is worth more than $50, the holder of the property has to notify the state that this property exists and is not claimed. The state of Maine will have to file reports about this property and make a record of it. The dormancy period for a property depends upon the type of property, and there are various regulations that impact these kinds of abandoned items.
The landlord can usually relocate the property to a safe place once the state has been notified of its existence. There are usually limits on the time that the landlord has to keep the property in a safe place that is locked for the night and away from environmental challenges like rain and snow.
The Maine Unclaimed Property website will show renters the list of items that were reported as abandoned when a property was left behind. However, if the landlord has waited for the 14-day period without a response from the former tenant, they are not required to keep the items.
Disposing of this kind of claimed property can be complex, and landlords are advised to speak to the state department, which governs reporting of these items, to find out how they can sell or donate them.
Landlords need to be careful about getting rid of items that have been unclaimed by former tenants so that they observe the holding period for each kind of item correctly. The lease agreement that the tenant signed might also state that abandoned items can be used to help pay for owed back rent, but this is not a clause that is present in every rental contract.
There are state laws that might provide support for this process if your rental contract does not state that this is the consequence of leaving behind personal items when you leave a property with the rent unpaid. Making sure that you know the letter of the law will make the process of navigating the personal property part of cleaning up an abandoned rental much easier.
What Kind of Documentation Must be Done to Reclaim an Abandoned Property?
In the case of rental properties, the serving of notice to the tenants that they need to pay rent or they will be evicted can often be the only required documentation that is needed to reclaim an abandoned property.
Landlords often have clauses in their rental agreements which state what the law already says about these kinds of disagreements, so renters cannot claim that they were not made aware of this part of the rental agreement.
While there are some states that will not allow landlords to change the locks and take possession of a property after an abandonment for a set number of months, this is not the case in Maine.
Making sure that you follow all the notification guidelines for your tenants who might have abandoned the property is critical. Landlords can get in a hurry to try and take back possession of the property and find that they are tied up in a legal battle with the former renter, even if the renter does not want to return to the property.
Evictions that are done in person are handled very differently, which is why it can be easy for a landlord to assume that all they need to do is clean up the property that has been abandoned and relist it.
Damages and other kinds of cleanup will likely not be covered by the former renter since they have abandoned the property. However, security deposits and first and last months’ rent are allowed to be retained by the landlord in these cases to help mitigate the cost of getting the property ready to be rented again.
One of the first things that is typically done is to have the locks changed, and then cleaning and repair crews are scheduled to deal with damage to the property. Storage costs for abandoned items that were removed during this part of the process can be forwarded to the treasurer of state.
This is one of the reasons that having a lawyer look at the situation related to an abandoned property can be such a good idea. You will want to be able to secure repayment for these storage costs, especially if you are not able to dispose of the items in question for a set period of time. A lawyer can help to ensure that your costs are paid related to these storage fees.
Mobile Home Abandonment
This is one of the dicey and complex processes that can crop up for property holders. In mobile home parks, the property itself is owned by a landlord, but the home belongs to the resident. When rent or dues for the use of the lot are not paid, the mobile homeowner can be evicted from the lot. This means that their house has to be moved as well.
In some cases, renters will just abandon their mobile home to avoid the costs of paying back rent that is due. Renters have 14 days to relocate their mobile home before the park owner is allowed to treat the home as abandoned property. Mobile home property owners can do the following when a home is considered abandoned:
- Hold the home until the back rent, damages, legal fees, and storage costs have been paid
- Sell the mobile home for “reasonable fair market price” to recoup losses. The owner of the park will then deduct all owed amounts for back rent, damages, legal fees, storage costs, marketing expenses, and taxes.
- The mobile park owner will then send the remainder to the last known address of the mobile home owner. If the money is returned due to an invalid address, the mobile home park owner must send the money to the Treasure of State. Mobile home parks cannot keep any of the leftover profits from the sale of a mobile home that has been abandoned.
- The money that has been returned to the state will often be tracked so that a former tenant can reclaim it if they find out that their home was sold after they abandoned it.
Mobile home park owners will need to work with an experienced lawyer when they need to declare a home abandoned. This can be a complex process, particularly if there are other residents in the home who are not paying rent but have nowhere else to go.
Mobile home parks often have issues with people abandoning properties and leaving without giving any notice. However, there can be difficult considerations related to personal property left in the home, as well as complications due to elderly residents who are not owners of the home but were also residing on the property.
Working with a skilled lawyer will ensure that mobile home park abandonment cases are not handled incorrectly. This also ensures that the right resources are on hand to help with issues like additional residents and other property that needs to be stored or kept safe for a specific amount of time.
What if the Tenant Replies to the Eviction Notice?
The tenant can reply to eviction notices and indicate that they are planning to pay the back rent that was required to get access to the property again. They will have to pay the back rent that is owed by the end of the notice period per state law.
However, if you have other clauses in your contract that indicate that a percentage of the back rent can be paid by the end of the eviction notice period to secure the property again, you will need to adhere to this allowance.
A skilled legal team can help you to navigate the process if your former tenant wants to try and correct the rent arrears and move back into the property. There are many considerations that will need to be met during this process, and the former tenant needs to abide by all of these considerations, or their request will not be honored.
The same process is ideal if you are storing property for a former tenant and they respond asking to be able to pick up the property. There are various rules and regulations that govern this transfer, and you will want to be sure that you do not miss any of the steps when working with a tenant to return their property.
The notice that you sent out about the property being relocated should have an itemized list associated with it, which the tenant will need to use to work with the storage entity and your lawyer to get the right items back into their possession.
This is one of the most time-intensive parts of the process of evicting a tenant, and you will want to be sure that you do not set back your process to relist the property and recoup your losses by handling it incorrectly.
Can You Manage an Abandoned Rental Property Without a Lawyer?
While you can try to manage the process of reclaiming an abandoned property that has been left by a renter, it can be complicated to comply with the law. There are many steps that must be taken before you can relist the property, and left-behind items need to be handled within the confines of the law as well.
Working with a skilled legal team can make the difference between running into legal troubles with your former tenant and being able to get your property listed again promptly. Providing the right legal notices and handling the storage of property correctly is key if you want to be sure that you do not run into issues when a tenant abandons a property.
Being sure that you are handling the process correctly is key to be sure that you will not run into expensive legal trouble with anyone who has abandoned a property that you rent. There are many pitfalls that landlords can run into when someone abandons a rental that they have been living in, and this is particularly true of mobile home park rentals.
Having skilled legal advice can make the whole process much less stressful and chaotic from start to finish.
Work with a Skilled Legal Team for All Abandoned Tenant Property Issues
The skilled legal team at Lopez Law Group can help you to handle all of these kinds of situations with ease and make sure that you comply with Maine state laws when taking care of this kind of issue.
You will want to have a skilled lawyer helping you with the process of getting the property prepared to be rented again. Dealing with the private property of the renter who abandoned the property can be much easier with a skilled lawyer on your side as well.
The team at Lopez Law has years of experience with these kinds of rental property issues and can provide you with the advice that you need. Having the peace of mind that you are doing the right thing when a renter abandons your rented property can be a huge relief.
Knowing that you will be able to recoup most of your losses through the use of the right legal processes is very beneficial as well. Contact us today to get help with your abandoned tenant property so that you do not lose more money and time while your property stands open. We can schedule a consult and get you the legal support that you need for tenant abandonment issues.