Require Households to Inform You of Long Absences
Lengthy unexplained household absences from your site can be frustrating and may even violate HUD lease provisions that require assisted households to use their units as their primary residences. You may have households that leave the site for months at a time during particular seasons. Or you may have a tenant serving in the armed forces who has been deployed for a lengthy amount of time. Regardless of the reason for extended absences, you need to be consistent in how you deal with long absences when it comes to your affordable housing site.
Guidelines should be established for the extended absence or abandonment of a unit. If abandonment of a rental unit isn’t addressed by state or local law, owners should establish a rule for declaring a unit abandoned. And rules regarding abandonment must be consistent with state and local law regarding nonpayment of rent, specify the actions that the owner will take to contact the tenant, and describe the handling and disposition of any tenant possessions left in the unit.
To help curb instances of unexplained long absences and households not using their units as their primary residences, you should require households to notify the manager before going away for long periods.
Three Reasons to Know About Absences
There are three solid reasons for getting households to tell you before they go out of town for an extended period of time.
Primary residence rule. The HUD lease requires that households live in their units and not have any other places of residence [HUD Handbook 4350.3, App. 4-A, par. 13]. Some sites have many of their households disappear for extended periods of time. This is especially common at sites for the elderly, where households sometimes disappear for entire seasons.
Requiring households to notify you of extended absences can help you keep better track of who’s habitually leaving the site at the same time each year. And it gives you additional leverage for dealing with lease violators who leave the site for months at a time without giving you notice.
Need to know whether unit is abandoned. When households skip out on their leases in the middle of the night, managers must prepare their units for re-renting. This may involve packing up and disposing of the property left behind. Managers generally have the right to do this, as long as they know the unit is abandoned.
Unfortunately, managers can’t always tell when a unit is abandoned. Households rarely announce that they’re abandoning their units. They just leave, and waiting in vain for a household to return costs your site money. If you wait too long for a household to return, you could miss out on collecting any vacancy payments from HUD. And you may even have to pay back a portion of the monthly assistance on the unit to HUD if HUD believes you’ve been unfairly collecting assistance on a unit that has been abandoned for months. But prematurely treating a unit as abandoned could make you liable for a wrongful eviction and misappropriation of property if the household does return.
Safety. It’s important to know about household absences so that you can keep tabs on their units. For example, a pipe break that goes unchecked for several days will obviously cause significant damage. And units are a lot easier to rob when households are away.
Practical Pointer: Be sure to remind staff that carelessly mentioning a household’s vacation plans could make them more vulnerable to a break-in. So remind them that a household’s planned absence is confidential information.
Require Advance Notice
The solution to the problem of unexplained household absences is to require households to tell you before they go away for extended periods of, say, four weeks or more.
You can include this requirement as a lease clause, but be sure to get HUD approval before you add it to your lease. Or you can insert a provision in the house rules, as long as you give households 30 days’ notice before it takes effect.
Here’s what your lease clause should say:
Model Lease Language
Households shall notify Owner in writing if all members of the household expect to be away from the premises for more than 30 days.
Talk to your attorney about including provisions like this one in your lease or house rules. As part of a site’s house rules, owners can establish rules specifying when households give up their right to occupancy because of their extended absence or abandonment of the unit. Under these rules, owners may initiate action to terminate tenancy in response to an extended absence or abandonment of the unit by the tenant or individual listed on the lease for that unit. Abandonment is distinguished from an absence from the unit by a household’s failure to pay the rent due for the unit and failure to acknowledge or respond to notices from the owner regarding the overdue rent. It’s up to you to say how long a period a household’s absence combined with nonpayment of rent must be to constitute abandonment.