Most lease agreements state that you’re responsible for the entirety of the lease term, even if you try to leave early. Most landlords are willing to work out an agreement if you have a reason to leave the house early. We’ve let several people out of their leases early to either move out of the area or buy a new home (those are just the reasons we’ve dealt with, not saying those are the only reasons we’d let you out of a lease).
We usually default to two-months worth of rent as a “lease break fee.” You leaving early has increased our projected expenses for the house because turning over a house is expensive and you’re asking us to have more time without rental income. With that said, we’ve also left it at “you pay rent up until we get a new tenant in the house.” I’ve never taken more than a week to get a new tenant set up in a house, but my property managers (through companies, not the individual person we use in Virginia) consistently take 2 months to get a unit rented (I don’t get it!).
Then there are some people who just leave. No notice. No request. They abandon the property and stop communicating. Surprisingly, we’ve dealt with this twice in the last 6 years.
The positive, they’re mostly out of the house, and we can take action to get it re-rented, which is better than them living in the house while not paying rent. The negative, we’ve had no warning of their intent to stop paying rent. Plus, if a tenant is willing to just walk away from a house, s/he may not be leaving it in pristine condition.
The first tenant abandonment ended well. In Virginia, if the house is abandoned for 7 days, it automatically returns to the landlord’s possession without the court getting involved.
I received a call from the public school system. They asked me if I was the owner and if so-and-so was living at this address. I truly could not answer. My property manager did the background check and set up the lease. I basically look at the lease to ensure the dates are correct and that all the initials and signatures are in place, but I certainly don’t commit names to memory. I gave the person my property manager’s contact. Connecting the dots, she must have confirmed the name of the tenant and the address because the tenant received notice that his children were no longer allowed to attend a school they were not districted for. This happened years ago. I always thought it was odd that they called in April to verify such a thing, when there was 4-5 weeks of school left. But then I was just telling this story last night, and someone said that if the kids are not causing trouble, they typically look the other way. So perhaps there was an underlying reason for the school system to go digging.
Well anyway, in true logical decision making, he blamed us for getting his kids kicked out of school. If I didn’t know his name, I certainly didn’t know how many kids he had or where he was sending them.
He let us know he was moving out, but he wasn’t cooperative. He said he’d be out by a certain date in May 2017, but he didn’t have everything cleared out. We finally got stern with him. By the end of May, he hadn’t paid what he agreed to, so we filed with the court.
We worked to get the house turned over in the last week of May, and we had new tenants move in on June 1st. We were only out 1 month worth of rent along with the costs of turnover. His security deposit covered a majority of the balance owed, so it wasn’t an immediate hit to our finances.
The court granted us the judgement. The total he owed was $1,074.76. Unfortunately, the judgement just writes the amount owed and whether interest is owed, but it doesn’t give a deadline for payment. The system expects the two parties to work together to make a payment plan. If he doesn’t live up to the payment plan, then we can go to the court and file for another judgement. We received $200 immediately from him, and then agreed to $200 every other Friday for the remaining $875.
He missed the second payment. We sent an email explaining that if he doesn’t reach out, our property manager will go to the court to file, which will then lead to a credit report hit and collections. He eventually started making a few payments, but I should have stuck to my guns and required 4-5 payments. In mid-November, he still had a balance owed of $685, plus 6% interest from the date on the judgement. We eventually got all the money he owed, but it took a year, and it was frustrating to constantly have to track him down and push him to finish the payment plan.
The second abandonment just happened. In March, our property manager was tipped off by a neighbor that our tenant was moving out. Our property manager asked if he was moving out, and he denied it. Then he didn’t pay April’s rent, so she continued to follow up, but received no responses. I am not clear why it took until April 12 to decide to post notice to enter the property, and then why she didn’t actually enter the property until April 18, but that’s what happened. That’s 18 days of lost rent and lost productivity for us to turnover the unit. That’s $555 worth of rent that is just lost. We could have been working on cleaning out the house during that time.
Our property manager entered the unit and took pictures. She found that the tenant had left some furniture and garbage behind, but it was clear enough that he left and wasn’t returning. The house was also in bad shape. All the walls required a new coat of paint. The floors were filthy, as if things were spilled all over, never cleaned up, never vacuumed, and he left all the windows open for water to leak in. The kitchen was covered in fruit fly type bugs. The bathrooms were so horrendous that I refused to even be in the house until they got cleaned. It was impressively dirty. I always wonder how people live in such conditions. This is YOUR toilet. Why would you enter this room and think “yes, this is where I want to sit!”
The property management company had their staff remove the pieces of furniture and garbage from the house. Then they wiped down baseboards so that I could start painting. It was so bad when I entered that I had them get a professional cleaner in there before I’d spend much time there. I painted all 3 levels (including two stairwells), except for 1 bathroom and 3 closets. Then we got carpet cleaners in there and some maintenance items taken care of.
It was an extra 3 weeks worth of work that we did ourselves and coordination with contractors to get the house turned over. We lost April’s rent, and then we were set up to lose May’s rent. We didn’t get the house listed until May 6th, and then we didn’t get a confirmed renter until May 25th, for them to start a June 1st lease.
The silver linings here are that we improved the condition of the property over those 3 weeks; we could have lost even more weeks of rent, but we were lucky to find someone that wanted it nearly immediately; we have the unit rented $275 more per month than we had it leased for. Had we kept it rented through the end of the lease, we would have brought in about the same amount for the year that we’re bringing in now with the increase in rent, even though we lose 2 months worth of rent.
The tenant’s final cost, being billed for April, May, and June rent (I don’t know why the management company chose to include June), is $3,868.12. That’s after applying his security deposit to the balance owed. We probably won’t see a dime of that. If a tenant is willing to lie that they’re moving out, and then not respond to anything being sent after that, they’re not willing to work with us on a payment plan. We didn’t have any maintenance issues with the house, and we didn’t think he was unhappy with anything. Granted, I don’t know if our property manager was not responding to issues, but we weren’t aware of any. This house is in Kentucky, so we don’t have a grasp on how the court system works like we do in Virginia.
While it’s stressful and frustrating, eventually you move on. Once the house is re-rented, you start to feel better about the situation. Each day that you’re working on the house and each day there’s no application received for the property, you just keep building anxiety. While the first situation ended well in that we eventually received all our lost money, I don’t expect this second abandonment to end as well. Our long term (or more like 1-2 year short term) plan is to sell this property, so we’ll recoup that in the equity made over the last 6+ years with the house.