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How Do I Determine If a Tenant Has Abandoned Their Rental Property?

Have you ever had a tenant leave in the middle of the night or the middle of an eviction? Did you ever wonder what to do?

Michigan does not have a law specifically regarding abandoned rental units. However, the courts have held that if certain conditions apply, a landlord does not need to file an eviction or wait for the sheriff. The courts will generally agree that a tenant has abandoned their rental unit and have given up possession if most of the following apply:

  • The utilities have been shut off.
  • The rent has not been paid.
  • If all the tenant’s personal effects are gone, e.g. toiletries, clothes, jewelry, etc.
  • All the furniture has been removed (not including items that appear to be in disrepair and left as “trash”).
  • There appears to be no food at the premises or the food in the refrigerator is spoiled.
  • If all the food preparation equipment has been removed, e.g. pans, pots, toaster, etc.
  • Pets appear to have been abandoned, i.e. dead, starving, seriously ill, feces within the premises, etc.

Other things you can check for:

  • Did the neighbors see them move?
  • Did the tenant have their address changed at the post office?

Also, if the tenant has returned the keys to the landlord and relinquished possession, the landlord can take possession without further action.

However, if you are not certain whether the tenant has abandoned the property, you should not change the locks or otherwise remove the tenant’s personal property.

In some cases, the tenant may have been arrested or may be in the hospital, which would explain why they haven’t been around. Or, maybe the tenant has moved but left behind some furniture to pick up later on. Even if the tenant is not sleeping at the unit, they are still “in possession” if they have their personal belongings in the unit and have not shown intent to abandon these items.

If a landlord cannot affirmatively determine that a tenant has abandoned their unit and their personal belongings, an eviction will be necessary. A Demand for Possession for Non-Payment of Rent form should be used to start the eviction process. (If rent is paid, a tenant is still in possession, whether or not the unit appears to be vacated.)

If the rent is paid but emergency conditions arise such as abandoned pets, the landlord should take action according to their emergency policy as explained in their lease and/or pet agreement.


Disclosure: This Knowledge Base article is accurate as of the last update. Laws and policies are subject to change. If you have any questions, please call the office. Click here for contact information.