Tenant abandonment or illegal entry?

This isn’t really a “what should I have done” question. I want to understand the way this would be interpreted in court and whether or not I had reason to enter the house. Kansas law allows explicitly for the landlord to enter after reasonable notice, but doesn’t define what reasonable notice is. It also allows me to consider the house abandoned after ten days of nonpayment if the tenant has removed a “substantial portion” of their belongings.

So here is the scenario:

Tenant is two weeks late. I post three day notice and call him. No response. I stop by three times a day (near my house anyway) in morning, noon, and evening to chat with him and nobody is there. The notice has been posted in such a way that he cannot enter the house without removing the notice, so he has not been there. I call him again after three days, no response or return call. I can’t see through the windows, except the back patio door. There is a dryer, but no washing machine. The lock is removed from the shed in the yard and it is nearly empty, except for some push mowers that appear to not work. The lawn is not mowed. I chat with two neighbors and they both say they saw him there moving furniture a week before and have not seen him since. The gas and electric are turned on.

So, I called him again and left a message saying that I believed the house was abandoned and I was having extreme difficulties reaching him. After that I entered the house. One bedroom was empty, another had a cot on the floor, and a third had a bed and some clothes in the closet. There were two couches and a cable box but no tv. A modem but no computer. Some stuff in the bathroom but not enough to be living there. All the cabinet doors were open and some were empty, and the key was on the counter.

I left a notice on the door that we believed the property to be abandoned but did not change the locks. He got the message that night and moved his stuff out without much fuss but complained that I had illegally entered his house and evicted him.

Now, here are my questions:

  1. did his lack of a response and apparent abandonment make it OK to enter?
  2. would I have been OK to assume that it was abandoned based on what I saw?

I believe he was moving in with a girlfriend and grabbed the important stuff, but just hadn’t been back for the rest.

Your lease should allow you to enter/view the property; I know mine does.

But if you are thinking about throwing out his remaining junk…just forget it. Just file an eviction, get a writ of possession, and then move the stuff to the curb. It’s only 21 days here in Texas - on average - to get that done. Its not expensive and 100% protects you from a tenant getting sue happy later.

Both my lease and state law allow me to enter with “reasonable notice.”

Kansas is a pretty tenant friendly state though, and they can be weird about these things. I couldn’t get ahold of him to give him notice so I am a little worried that a judge might do something like allow a counterclaim against me for illegal entry if I sue him for the lost rent.

I didn’t evict him since I never changed the locks. I think I would have been right to do so in this case, since he hadn’t been seen in some time, wasn’t answering phone calls, was more than ten days late, and had removed a “substantial portion” of his belongings. State law and my lease say that I can deem it abandoned if those two criteria are met (10 days and removing belongings).

I know judges don’t like “DIY evictions” here. I am trying to steer clear of anything that could be construed as a DIY eviction. I guess what bothers me is that I was wrong about him being done moving out. The only thing of value left were the couches, and I just figured he leased them and left it for me to deal with. He didn’t take his bed either but he had gone through a divorce and the neighbors said a woman was helping him move so he might have either reconciled or moved in with a girlfriend, no longer needing the mattress. It all made sense to me anyway at the time.

I would hope that a judge would side with me in this case if I can prove that I was acting in a reasonable way with the information I had available at the time.

You left a written notice and you called him. I don’t see how this could be interpreted as unauthorized entry since he was multiple times notified. You didn’t change the locks, so you didn’t evict.

However, if all of his stuff isn’t out, I’d file for eviction. He wants to be difficult, so do it 100% legally. He’s being a butt, so might as well get it put onto his credit report to warn future landlords. If this clown comes to me wanting to rent, I would greatly appreciate the warning that he is a difficult person to deal with.

The only thing is that the notice on the door and the phone calls should have specifically stated that you would be going in to inspect so there would be no way to misinterpret. That could be— ahem-- added to the notice now and he’d never know the difference, unless he took the notice with him when he came back for his stuff.

In future keep in mind that all communication with tenants must be crystal clear, like you are talking to a 3 year old child. Use short easy words and repeat everything at least three times. Even then, they will misinterpret, which is why everything should be in writing.