Q: Can I legally change the locks and get rid of junk after a tenant leaves?
I gave a tenant a 3 day notice to vacate for non-payment of rent, he left but refused to return the keys and garage remote. He also left a lot of junk in the yard and garage. Can I change the locks and dispose of the junk so that I can re-rent the home?
It depends upon the specific provisions of your lease agreement addressing personal property abandoned by the tenant and the nature of the personal property left behind. They say that one man's junk is another man's treasure. You should carefully inventory and photograph what the tenant left behind and very carefully follow the procedure outlined in your written lease agreement.
If you made the mistake of not having a written lease agreement, or signing one that does not explicitly address this issue, take your inventory, photographs, and any lease agreement to an attorney. You may have to proceed with an eviction anyway, especially since the tenant has not returned the keys or garage remote. In the absence of a lease agreement addressing it, the tenant keeping the keys and remote is certainly some evidence that the tenant has not fully surrendered the premises or abandoned the personal property that has been left behind.
The best solution may be to have the tenant sign a written document acknowledging that he has surrendered the premises and abandoned any personal property left behind when you refund the tenant's security deposit.
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