Tenants who left property, now want it back

  Just wondering what people thought about this situation...We had tenants that we had trouble getting out of a townhome we were renting.  They finally agreed to leave on a certain day and left the keys with their attorney. Of course they owe us a lot of money and there was no talk of when we would get any of it or where they were moving to. We got the keys and immediately changed the lock on the front door.  However, we found the garage and one of the bathroom doors to be locked from the opposite site. (Meaning we could not get into either one without a key and the garage car door is also locked from the car entrance).  The other day we were over there and the husband shows up to pick up their minivan he says they left in the garage.  My husband told him he needed the key (which he gave to him) and then told him we need to  discuss when we would be getting our money, then we could discuss the minivan.  That was two days ago and we still have the van.  Our lawyer is out of town until Monday....Any thoughts?  Thanks


The answer to your question really boils down to laws of your state. Generally, you can not keep the tenant’s property in lieu of unpaid rent. There may also be an issue of abandonment.

The bottom line is that you need to talk to a GOOD attorney that really knows the law in this area.

Good Luck,


I would call a tow company and have it moved. They would probably also know the laws in your state.

How long has it been? If that ever happens again, I would pay a locksmith to open the doors. They purposely locked the doors that way to keep their van safe, creating storage (and storage fees). They were supposed to be out with ALL their belongings by that point, you didn’t agree to store the van (they didn’t ask, either). If they call about it, I would tell them that you have to consult with your attorney when he/she returns and can’t discuss it until that point. Depending on the state, if there is a judgment entered you could sell the van to be recompensed for monies owed. Relax until your attorney returns. If they bother you, call the police.

Like everyone else said, consult your attorney, laws really vary from state to state.

Just to give you an idea though, in this state even though we are really tenant friendly, if they leave behind their belongings, you get to hold onto them until their back rent is paid. You actually have to store it for 6 months and pay for 3 months of storage. They have to be caught up before they can claim their stuff in storage. You can get sued if you just throw it out.

As it sounds like they left the place voluntarily, and basically abandoned it, you may have a good claim to it as they did hand over the house keys. As for those locks that you didn’t have they key to, I would have tried using my drill and just drilled out the locks, after all the place is yours and usually those locks are like $10-$20 and a locksmith is going to cost a lot more than that.

If you break the locks you’ll have to replace them anyway. It’s less of a headache to go to True Value or Home Depot and replace all the locks in the house than to risk the old tenants coming back with the key and letting themselves in. Keys are cheap, Lord knows how many copies they have made and given to all their friends.

Absolute the correct advice.

In calif, you can hold a tenant’s property hostage for back rent IF (this a key point), you have regained possession of the property thru eviction or tenant move-out. In case, if certainly does appear the tenant relinquished possession of the property. However, did you relinqish possession of the garage??? This is the key question and you should consult (and probably retain) an atty well versed in RE/eviction matters.

I think you are in a very good position to collect your back rent.