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What Can the Owner Do When the Tenant Abandons the Property?

Sometimes tenants are absent from the property for extended periods of time without explanation and without paying rent. Frequently they leave their belongings behind. If the tenant has truly abandoned the property, the landlord may, of course, take possession and re-rent the property. However, this scenario frequently leaves the property owner with a judgment call as to whether the tenant has abandoned the property or whether he is coming back. If the landlord guesses wrong, and the tenant comes back after his property has been removed and the premises re-rented, the situation could turn ugly.

However, the Tennessee Uniform Residential Landlord & Tenant Act provides a “safe harbor” for the landlord who is willing to wait for 30 days. The Act provides that the tenant’s unexplained absence from the premises for 30 days or more without payment of rent is prima facie evidence of abandonment. The landlord is then expressly authorized to enter the premises and remove and store the personal items of the tenant. If the tenant does not claim the personal items within an additional 30 days, the landlord is authorized to sell or dispose of the items and apply the proceeds of sale to the unpaid rent, storage fees, etc. Of course, it is unlikely that there will be a balance left over after the unpaid rent, storage fees, etc., are paid. However, if there is such a balance, the landlord is required to hold it for six months. Presumably, if the balance is not claimed by the tenant, the landlord is permitted to keep it.

The Tennessee Uniform Landlord & Tenant Act provides one additional step the landlord may take to protect himself in the event of an unexplained absence by the tenant. The Act permits the landlord to include a provision in the rental agreement that requires the tenant to notify the landlord of any anticipated absence from the premises in excess of seven days. During any absence in excess of seven days, the landlord may enter the property at “times reasonably necessary”. Further, if the tenant willfully fails to give notice of absence, the landlord may recover any actual damages that may result, such as frozen pipes.  

The information contained on this site is intended to educate members of the public generally and is not intended to provide solutions to individual legal problems. Readers are cautioned not to attempt to solve individual problems on the basis of information contained herein and are strongly advised to seek competent legal counsel before relying on information on this site.

This site is maintained by Vowell & Associates, Attorneys at Law, 6718 Albunda Drive, Knoxville TN 37919, Tel. 865-292-0000, Fax 865-292-0002, email
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Last modified: Monday November 21, 2005.