Be mindful of your priorities.

April 6, 2013

English: Montana State Capitol

I recently discovered that while I was fixated on other legislation, I managed to miss a bill that directly effects my business.

I am both a landlord, and a property manager. I own 5 residential rental units, and I manage another 25 units for my father. There isn’t much a tenant can do, that I haven’t seen. So I know what I’m talking about when I say the issue of abandoned property, is a little more significant to the landlord side of the business than some folks might realize.

To put it plainly, a landlord loses money for each day a unit is empty, and of course new tenants can’t move in until the old tenants are moved out. I can tell you from my own experience, that there isn’t a whole lot that is more irritating than when a tenant moves out, and leaves personal possessions in the unit.

Title 70 chapter 24 section 430 (MCA 70-24-430) is the section of Montana State law that addresses this situation. On the 27th of March the governor signed House bill 368 which amended this law.

From my perspective as a landlord, some of the changes were good, some I don’t have much of an opinion about either way, and one that I really don‘t like at all.

You see, prior to this amendment, a landlord was permitted to remove personal property left behind by a tenant, 5 days after the occurrence of events upon which the landlord formed the “reasonable belief” that the unit and said property had been abandoned.

The law now reads, and I quote “MCA 70-24-430 subsection (1)(a) If a tenancy terminates in any manner except by court order and the landlord HAS CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE that the tenant has abandoned all personal property that the tenant has left on the premises and a period of time of at least 48 hours has elapsed since the landlord OBTAINED THAT EVIDENCE, the landlord may immediately remove the abandoned property from the premises and immediately dispose of any trash or personal property that is hazardous, perishable, or valueless.”

Although this may be a bit more ethically sound, I do have a problem with it. When a tenant moves out, doesn’t say anything, including where they moved to, where is a landlord expected to find, clear and convincing evidence? The law doesn’t specify.

In the past, it wasn’t too hard to look for obvious signs of abandonment. For example, tenants commonly take their curtains when they move. If I walked up to knock on the door and could see clearly that most of the furniture in the living room was gone, I’d take that as an indication that they had moved, or were in the process of moving, and I’d start keeping an eye on the place.

Before it was amended, the law only required 5 days, I always gave it a week. If I still hadn’t heard anything, nothing I could see in or around the unit had been moved, and none of the neighbors had seen the tenants, I felt pretty safe reclaiming my property.

In the 7 years I’ve been in business, I’ve never had an incident where a tenant has come back after I reclaimed the unit.

Now the only thing I can think of to do in this situation, is to file for eviction, pay the sheriffs department to serve the tenant, and then wait for the sheriffs department to decide the unit is abandoned. I honestly have no idea how long they are required to attempt to serve the tenant before they can make this determination, but I expect it’s a good long while.

To give some perspective, let me explain what I’m looking at losing, while I wait. The most expensive unit I own is currently rented for $800 a month. If you divide by 30, each day that unit is empty, I lose $26.67.

Obviously it costs money to file for eviction. Last time I had to do it, it was $35 to file, and $65 to have the tenant served.

Of course I go through a process, before I even get to that point. If a tenant doesn’t pay or return my calls, I send a reminder on the 6th, and then a certified letter on the 10th. The law requires 3 days for non-payment of rent, plus 3 days for delivery of the letter. That’s 16 days right there. After I reclaim the unit, I still have to clean and make repairs, then advertise and do showings until I get it re-rented. In the past, I expected to lose 4-6 weeks income, on average. I honestly don’t know what to expect now.

However, some good did come from this.

The new text of the law that specifies trash or personal property that is hazardous, perishable, or valueless can be disposed of immediately, is a very good thing. I have on occasion felt legally obligated to store chemicals and the like that made me very nervous. I am quite relieved that I don’t have to do that anymore.

In any case, the real disappointment here, is that I missed this one entirely. It’s a lesson I’ve just learned the hard way. If you plan to take an active roll in working with our government, it helps to be mindful of your own priorities.

Glenn W. Uncles Jr.

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2 Responses to Be mindful of your priorities.

  1. […] George asks…Is this enough to report my landlord and have her consequenced?I'm not even going to g…tent"> […]

    • Glenn Uncles on April 29, 2013 at 5:24 pm

      I have been in this business for a long time, and I am well read in Montana Landlord Tenant law, but I cannot give legal advice, I could possibly get in some trouble for that, especially if I were to do so in such a public manner. I will say this much though. The vast majority of landlord tenant situations are civil matters. If you think you have something of merit I suggest running it by a lawyer. Most civil lawyers, will do an interview for free. They’ll hear you out and tell you if they think you’ve got a case. Then of course if you want their help you have to pay them. Good Luck.



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