Did my tenants abandon the property? Will I ever get the past due rent paid?

Additional Information:

I’m a landlord of a 3 family in Marlborough.  One of the tenants has failed to make any payment for four months. On arrival to the property to give an eviction notice, no one was there. The property surrounding the house was full of the tenant’s property and there was trash and moldy food in the kitchen.  I talked to the neighbors and they said the tenants had left two weeks prior. The gas and electric were shut off.   So since they essentially abandoned the property, as a landlord do I have the right to dispose of the abandoned property? And do I have any hope of collecting the 4 months rent?

ATTORNEY ANSWER:

The first question is whether the tenant has terminated the tenancy.  There are reported cases where the landlord assumed the tenant had abandoned, only to find out later that the tenant was in rehab, or incarcerated.  The neighbors are not a reliable source of whether someone has moved out.  If the tenant has not returned the keys, then it is better to assume they still have legal possession and bring an action to terminate the tenancy.  You do not have a right to dispose of the tenant’s property.  There is an eviction storage law that requires certain steps to be taken.  The landlord should secure the property and bring it into compliance with the sanitary code, but should not lock out the tenants.  So long as the amount of rent due is less than the small claims dollar limit, an action can be brought in small claims court to try and collect the back rent. 

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