Tenant turnover is a long, bothersome, and often costly process for property owners in Washington, particularly when the tenant leaves behind a mess. But what happens when the tenant abandons the home unexpectedly, leaving behind personal belongings, property damage, and unpaid rent?

Unfortunately, this scenario is quite common here in the Seattle area. So if (or when) you’re faced with an abandoned property, understanding what can you legally be done will ensure you handle the process in the best way to protect your investment.

Keep reading to learn the 3 most common mistakes Seattle-area property owners make when dealing with a tenant-abandoned rental.

1. Taking action without consulting an eviction attorney

The biggest mistake you can make with a tenant-abandoned property is to jump into clearing out the house or tracking down the tenant without first talking with an attorney.

Here in Washington, there are strict laws concerning what you can legally do in regards to:

  • Recouping unpaid rent
  • Assigning abandonment fees
  • Selling or disposing of personal belongings

Always consult with an eviction attorney before taking any action. In the meantime, familiarize yourself with the basics.

Abandonment fees & unpaid rent

Washington law does not explicitly state that a landlord may charge a tenant abandonment fee. However, you may have specific rules on this outlined in your lease agreement. Additionally, the tenant is liable for unpaid rent.
For month-to-month agreements, the tenant is liable for rent 30 days following the date you learned of the abandonment, or the date of the next regular rental payment (whichever comes first).

If your lease agreement is greater than month-to-month, the tenant is liable for the lesser of the following:

  • The entire rent due for the remainder of the term
  • All rent accrued during the period reasonably necessary to rent the premises to someone else at a fair price, plus the difference between such fair rental and the rent agreed to in the prior agreement

Personal Property

Washington outlines specific laws for when and how you can get rid of a tenant’s abandoned personal items — this includes storing, selling, or disposing of the belongings. The rules are a bit tricky, so make sure you confirm your plan with your attorney.

Note: Before you can take any action, you must determine that the property has truly been abandoned. Only after you’ve concluded that the tenant has moved out and stopped paying rent, you can begin to deal with the leftover belongings.

To start, you can move the belongings to a safe, secure location. You may also leave them where they’re at. You must then notify the tenant in writing of your intention to dispose of the property. The notice must include the following details:

  • Your name and address
  • Location where the property is being stored
  • The date you’ll dispose of or sell the property if the tenant does not claim their belongings
  • A statement that the tenant must pay for the costs of storage before claiming the property

This notice must be mailed to the tenant’s last known address and any other address that you know for the tenant.

Once you’ve mailed the notice, you must wait 7 days before selling or disposing of the property (for belongings worth $250 or less). For belongings valued at more than $250, you need to wait 45 days before selling or disposing of the property.

After the correct waiting period, you may sell or dispose of the items. You can use the proceeds of the sale toward money the tenant owes you, including unpaid rent, property damage, and the costs of storing the belongings. However, if there’s money left over, you are required to hold onto the funds for one year from the date of the sale. If the tenant doesn’t claim the money within that time frame, you can keep it.

Additionally, you should also check the rules stated in your lease agreement in regards to abandoned property.

Read the full details of the law here.

2. Letting it sit vacant for too long

Sorting out a tenant abandonment situation is a time consuming and expensive process. Coupled with other management responsibilities you no doubt have on your plate, you may be tempted to let the house sit vacant until you have the bandwidth to deal with the situation.

These vacant houses are dubbed “zombie homes” and the issues they cause really are scary.

Squatters

In the Seattle area, many abandoned and vacant homes will sit for as little as 24 hours before being inhabited by squatters. Once squatters set up shop in your vacant home and take care of the space, they can secure a legal right to occupy the property. You could end up losing the house altogether.

Crime & liability

According to a 2017 report by Community Blight Solutions, vacant properties increase crime. The fact is, a vacant home attracts problems from would-be criminals. And if someone sneaking around on your property is injured, you may be held liable.

Property costs

In Seattle (and in many cities throughout Washington) vacant buildings must be secured and maintained to prevent unauthorized entry and weather deterioration. That means, even if the house doesn’t have renters, you’ll be faced with maintenance costs. Not to mention monthly tax and mortgage payments.

If you don’t have the time or resources to avoid letting the house sit vacant, it may make more financial sense to sell the property as quickly as possible.

3. Rehabbing the home when it doesn’t make sense, financially

Many tenant-abandoned rentals are left in shambles, leaving you to not only sort through the tenant’s belongings, but also spending the money on repairs and getting the house rental-ready again. Depending on the work needed, this can take months, which will cost you rental income, too.

This leads to the last big mistake that property owners make with tenant-abandoned rentals — spending the time and resources to rehab a severely damaged home.

Carefully consider your situation to determine if it makes financial sense to go through with process:

  • How much time have you lost already in taking care of the tenant’s abandoned belongings?
  • Do you have any chance of recouping lost rent from the tenants?
  • How long will repairs take?
  • How long will it take to find new, reliable renters?

Consider the time and cost of all this. When the cost of getting the home rental ready again is too high, many property owners opt to sell the space, instead.

Sell your tenant-abandoned rental to Sound Redevelopment

Has your property been abandoned by tenants? Has the property been sitting vacant for a while? We can help you get out of this financially draining situation.

Sound Redevelopment has been buying homes for cash in the Seattle area for over 10 years. We can make you a competitive cash offer within 24 hours of visiting the property, deposit a $10,000 earnest money into your account to confirm our commitment, and close the transaction in as little as 2-3 days! There are never any fees.

Contact us to learn more today.