The possibility that an apartment has been abandoned usually comes to our attention when a tenant fails to pay rent and cannot be located. The question is: how do we determine that the apartment has been abandoned? Each jurisdiction will have specific requirements that must be followed. Generally, the process requires that reasonable effort be made to contact the tenant. That might include knocking on the door of the tenant's apartment at different times of day, attempting to phone the tenant, and conducting phone interviews with the tenant's employer or references listed on the rental application. The procedure might include sending a letter to the tenant. It might include asking neighboring tenants for information. It customarily includes searching the parking area for the tenant's automobile. After conducting appropriate preliminary steps, it becomes necessary to enter the tenant's apartment. It is a very good idea to obtain the assistance of a sworn police officer when entering an apartment you believe to be abandoned. The law may require the assistance of a police officer or management company policy may require it. There are good reasons for doing so. You could be entering a crime scene. There could be someone in the apartment even though it appears to be abandoned. If, for any reason it is necessary to enter without police assistance, it is imperative that two or more employees from the apartment management company enter to provide collaborative witness in case of a legal problem

If entry inspection reveals that the apartment has probably been abandoned, additional procedures are necessary. Those procedures are usually prescribed by local law. If the abandoned apartment does not contain the tenant's personal effects, gaining possession of the apartment is relatively simple. The process might require posting a notice on the door of the apartment, mailing a letter to the tenant, and waiting a prescribed number of days for a response. If the tenant holds a long-term lease, eviction proceedings may be a part of the process of recovering possession of the apartment.

If the abandoned apartment or any storage area on the property contains the tenant's personal effects, it will generally be legally necessary and good practice to inventory those personal effects. It may then be necessary to send a letter informing the tenant that the personal effects will be disposed of according to law unless claimed by the tenant within a specified number of days. It may be necessary to place the personal effects in storage for a specified time, a process that can be costly for the management company. The next step may be sale of the personal effects. The local law may require that the items be sold by the sheriff's department or that the items be advertised and sold at public auction. The management company may be allowed to deduct expenses from the proceeds of the sale with the balance, if any, being managed in accordance with legally prescribed procedure. The court may hold the balance, if any, for a specified time and, if unclaimed by the tenant, deposit the funds into the city or county treasury. In some jurisdictions it is possible to avoid the formal disposition of the tenant's personal effects if those personal effects have a very small estimated dollar value. A challenging problem occurs if items are found which have negligible monetary value but would ordinarily be important to a tenant, e.g. family photographs, legal documents, or tax records.

It is imperative that you obtain specific instructions from your legal counsel before starting the abandoned property procedure.

Generally, an abandoned apartment incurs two months without rent before it is possible to regain possession of the apartment. Recognize that even if legal procedures are meticulously followed, it remains possible that the tenant did not intentionally abandon the property. The tenant may have taken an extended trip and simply have forgotten about the rent payment. The tenant may have suffered an illness or accident while traveling and be unable to communicate. If that were to occur the tenant or the tenant's family could be angered by the action of the apartment management company. Carefully following legal procedures will give the apartment management company some protection. If the procedures are not followed, the management company could possibly incur a legal problem.

Proceed with caution!