California Rules for Abandoned Rentals

abandoned apartment

California Civil Code Section 1951.3 sets out the rules a landlord is to follow when a rental unit is suspected of being abandoned. Here are a few ways to make such a determination:

  • Rent 14 days overdue
  • Empty refrigerator
  • Terminated telephone and electrical service
  • Empty closets
  • Notification by neighbor about tenant

If all signs point to an abandonment situation, the landlord (or his property manager) can file a Notice of Belief of Abandonment (NBA). There are three steps specified for the proper administration of the NBA Form:

1)    The landlord gives written notice to the renter that the landlord believes the rental unit to be abandoned, and the renter fails to respond.

2)    The written notice cannot be given prior to a rent overdue situation of at least 14 days length. The notice specifies the date the lease termination, which must be at least 15 days after serving the notice (18 days if sent by mail).

3)    The landlord must either personally deliver the notice or mail it first class to the lessee’s last known address

The NBA gives the tenant the ability to contest the finding of abandonment. For instance, if the tenant paid the rent due during the 14-day waiting period, the NBA, this would show that the tenant did not plan to abandon the rental. Assuming the elements of the NBA are satisfied, the landlord regains control of the property after the specified waiting period through an eviction procedure.

As a San Diego property manager, we take steps to minimize rental abandonments. We carefully screen applicants, performing due diligence such as employment verification. We also ask all residents to report to us when they see a neighbor moving out. This tells all residents that there are deterrents in place. We like to educate our renters to better solutions than abandonment. We recently received a phone call from a tenant who reported that her neighbor’s water was being shut off. And to no one’s surprise, the tenant arrived with a moving truck, but was greeted by the sheriff – the problem was eventually straightened out.

A property manager has to ensure that misunderstandings don’t occur. For instance, the tenant may be in the hospital or on vacation.  In that case, the rental unit will not appear abandoned, a clue that something is up. Part of property management is keeping the lines of communications open with all of the tenants and to encourage reporting of suspicious circumstances.

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