18-Jun-2008 8:00 AM -- Landlord
What do I do when my tenant abandons the unit and leaves property behind?
18-Jun-2008 8:21 AM -- The Editor
This is an area of law that has been extensively legislated (meaning: it is confusing as heck and full of traps for landlords). The problem is simple: You can make a judgment that the tenant is gone for good, and it may be a very reasonable judgment, but if you are wrong the tenant may have a cause of action for illegal eviction and damages for the property you discarded. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 186, Section 14 allows claims for actual damages or three month’s rent, whichever is greater, plus attorney’s fees. Oh yeah, and you might be fined $300 or imprisoned for up to three months. I won’t even talk about the potential penalties if the court decides your actions violated the consumer protection act, Chapter 93A.
Now, hopefully, the housing court judge will not ruin you financially and toss you in jail for an honest mistake, but why take the chance? If you have investigated vigilantly, firmly believe the apartment is abandoned, and there are no valuable belongings left inside, you may want to gamble. Catalog whatever is left, take pictures, and then toss the belongings if you cannot find the tenant.
Otherwise, I recommend following the eviction process for non-payment of rent. The day after the rent is due, have a constable serve a notice to quit. Follow the steps for eviction and then have the constable take care of the abandoned property pursuant to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 239, Section 3 and 4.
If any other attorneys reading this have some better ideas, I would love to hear from them.
Last Edited on 20-Jun-2008 7:59 AM