An abandoned rental unit...not the most common occurrence but it can happen. A tenant’s abandonment may be determined in several ways, such as the return of keys, the substantial removal of their personal property, notice by the tenant, or the extended absence of tenant with unpaid rent. The next step is to review W. Va. Code, § 37-6-6 which addresses the procedure for handling all aspects of abandonment.

Notice of rent

When a tenant abandons the premises and owes rent the landlord must post a notice in writing in a conspicuous place on the premises, requiring the tenant to pay the rent within one month. If the rent is not paid within that time, the landlord can take possession, and tenant’s rights to the premises are terminated. The landlord is entitled to recover the amount of rent owed up to the time when landlord regained possession of the premises.

Personal property

Once regaining possession of the premises the landlord can deal with the tenant’s personal property left behind in any manner, such as taking it, disposing of it, or removing the property, without incurring any liability to tenant or anyone else. If the landlord chooses to dispose of the property a written notice must be given to the tenant. This notice must be posted in a conspicuous place on the property, and sent by first-class mail with a receipt of the date of mailing, in an envelope endorsed with “Please Forward”. The notice must be mailed to the tenant at the premises, any post office box held by tenant that the landlord knows about, and the most recent forwarding address (if any) known to landlord.

The written notice must state a few key pieces of information:

  • Abandonment has been presumed;
  • Any personal property left by tenant and stored for safekeeping must be removed by tenant by a date specified in the notice that is at least 30 days after the date the written notice was mailed, or if the tenant is on active duty in the armed forces of the United States, at least 60 days from the date of the notice.
  • The property becomes the property of the landlord if it’s not retrieved by the time period provided in the notice.
  • Per W. Va. Code, § 37-6-7, after the landlord takes possession the premises it will be leased to some other person, in which case the tenant will still remain liable under the rental agreement, for the unexpired portion of the agreement term, for the difference between the amount of rent received by landlord from the new tenant, and the amount payable under the rental agreement of tenant, and upon any other covenants or agreements contained in the rental agreement.

There is a special provision for abandoned personal property that is worth more than $300 and which has not been removed by the tenant within the time period stated in the written notice. For such property, the landlord must store the personal property for up to 30 additional days if the tenant informs landlord of their intent to remove the property. Costs of storage and removal in this case are owed by the tenant to the landlord.