For many Alabama landlords the Landlord Tenant laws can seem like a maze of confusing rules. Not following the rules can cost landlords valuable time and money. So, in an effort to demistify the process, I will be answering some of the most commonly asked landlord tenant questions.
Today’s Question? My tenant’s utilities have been turned off. Can I re-take possession of the unit?
Retaking possession of a property can be a tricky situation. Landlords who wish to take possession when it is not clear that the tenant has vacated must weigh the risk of a lawsuit for unlawful eviction with the lost time and income that can result from delay. If you are considering retaking possession of your property because of abandonment of the premises, you should look at all the circumstances before taking any steps to remove your tenant’s belongings. The safest way to protect yourself from being sued for an unlawful eviction is to use the court system to retake possession, but sometimes landlords want to avoid using the courts because it can be time consuming.
If you are faced with the decision of whether to retake possession of your property it is probably a good idea to document your reasoning. Ordinarily, a landlord has no right to retake possession of the property just because a tenant has failed to maintain the utilities. However, disconnected utilities can be evidence that the tenant has abandoned the residence. If you find that the utilities in your property have been disconnected, it may make sense to visit the property and talk to your tenant. If your tenant is still actively living there, you probably do not have grounds to retake possession. But, if you find that all of the utilities are shut off and the furniture has been removed, it may be appropriate to retake possession without resort to litigation.
If you decide to retake the possession because of abandonment, it is a good idea to document your reasoning. One way to do that would be to send your tenant a dated letter that explains that you have noticed that the property appears to be vacant and that any possessions left in the property will be discarded after 14 days. The letter might also explain the reasons you have come to those conclusions and give the tenant a way to contact you to collect leftover possessions if you have changed the locks.
Remember, if you decide to retake possession without filing an eviction there is no way to ensure that your tenant will not sue you for unlawful eviction, but an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure.