What are my rights as a landlord if my tenant has abandoned the premises?

My tenant in my basement apartment moved and didn’t leave me a key. Do I have any rights as to getting into my basement?

Asked on September 3, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Rhode Island


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

You do have rights, but the process may be a little cumbersome.

If the lease term were over (i.e. the last day of the lease has come and gone), then it's easy--the tenant has no right to possesion; you have the right to possession of the space; you can get a locksmith, etc. to let you in--and potentially charge the cost against the tenant's securty deposit.

If the lease term is not up though, you need to first establish your right to possession. You would, assuming there is some breach of the lease (e.g. non or late payment of rent) file an eviciton action to get a judgment of possession and warrant/writ of removal. Once you have that, you are entitled to possesion and you can get yourself let in.

Note that if the lease is not up AND the tenant is still complying with it (e.g. all rent is paid), then even if the tenant does not presently live there, you can't get possession--tenants are not required to actually reside in apartments to have rights to them, just to honor the lease and pay the rent when due.

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