Premises and Property: What to Do When Your Tenant Goes Missing
It’s every landlord’s worst nightmare. Your tenant has gone missing. Usually, the first sign you notice is that the rent is in arrears. Next, you or your property agent shows up at the house to find your tenant's neighbours haven’t seen them in weeks. There can be many different reasons why a tenant might go missing, from simply being unable to continue paying rent, to being on the run, or something more sinister. It can be an incredibly distressing situation to deal with and it’s hard to know where to start. We’ve provided a quick guide on how to handle this difficult situation.
Communication is Key
Having good communication processes in place will help minimise the risk of an abandoned property. In the event that a tenant does go missing, those same communication procedures will help you identify it early.
For example, Darwin Rental Specialists has a strict policy on following up with tenants who are in arrears. When they are two days overdue, the system triggers a prompt to contact the tenant. Good property management and communication means that you can work out any tenant issues, such as changes in circumstances, before the tenant decides to abandon the premises.
Handling Legal Aspects
If you have reason to believe your tenant has abandoned your property, then you, or your property manager on your behalf, may apply to the commissioner for an order for possession of the premises. If you have reason to believe the tenant has abandoned the property and rent is in arrears, you may take immediate possession of the property. If you’re unsure about any of the legal aspects surrounding property abandonment, consult with your property manager. They’re well versed in the tenancies act and can give you some helpful advice.
Dealing with Abandoned Goods
What are you supposed to do with any property your tenant leaves behind? Do you throw it away? Sometimes tenants don’t need their stuff anymore or are financially unable to move their things. So what do you do with these things?
- Dispose of any items which are perishable, dangerous or worthless. Goods are deemed worthless if the cost of the item is less valuable than the fair estimate of the cost of removal storage.
- Store valuable items for at least 30 days. You should try to provide written notice if possible, and circulate an ad in the local newspaper.
- Keep abandoned documents and papers for at least 30 days. You must take all reasonable steps to contact the tenant and arrange collection.
- Know your tenant's rights and responsibilities. If and when the tenant wants to claim their abandoned goods, they must pay you for the cost of storage and newspaper advertisements before being able to claim their possessions.
Penalties and Resolving Disputes
Unfortunately, if your tenant has abandoned the property while still owing rent, there are few things you can do to recoup your losses, other than claiming their rental bond. If you are able to contact them, you can apply directly to the commissioner in writing, setting out the details of the breach or dispute. The commissioner will then determine how to settle the dispute. However, your investment property insurance will most likely cover the majority of any losses you suffer.
It is distressing and disturbing to have your tenant up and leave without any notice, but be reassured that there are things that you can do to resolve this quickly. Having a good property manager on your side through this process will be an invaluable asset. Not only will they be able to support and advise you through the legal processes, they can also help prevent something like this from happening in the first place.