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“Tenant signed contract but not moving in”

by Prince Of Petworth March 15, 2017 at 1:15 pm 44 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Joe Flood

“Dear PoPville,

I’m a first time landlord and a tenant has recently signed a lease for my house and made a security deposit (which I deposited in my bank account and cleared). However, she has gone MIA ever since and she never moved in. I have called, texted, e-mail and left her several voice message but she doesn’t respond.

What do I do in this situation? Given this type of behavior, I don’t think she would even be suitable to be a tenant. Under the contract, I included the Waiver of notice to quit in the event of non-payment of rent. What do I have to do to void the contract in this case since I don’t even know how to get in contact with her?”

  • hiphop anonymous

    Low key shade with the picture choice. lol

    • ajr

      Yessss. I giggled hard!

    • maxwell smart

      Well played PoP. Well played.

    • textdoc

      Very sly, PoP!

      • bruno

        LOL. New York used to be the capital…. maybe he’s going all out with the retro stuff.

  • textdoc

    “What do I have to do to void the contract in this case since I don’t even know how to get in contact with her?
    If you’ve called and e-mailed, that should probably be sufficient. Just to cover yourself more thoroughly, you could send a letter via registered or certified mail (I always forget which one is which) — or maybe just “delivery confirmation”? — to the mailing address she listed on her application.
    Did she provide any emergency contacts on her application? If so, you could check with them to make sure she isn’t in the hospital or something.
    Did she not pay the security deposit and the first month’s rent at the same time — only the security deposit? And she doesn’t have keys to the place?

    • FridayGirl

      I agree with textdoc. It should be sent certified mail — the post office will return the letter to you within 30 days if it’s not claimed (or else return the slip saying she signed for it). If she didn’t pay the first months rent, you could always return the security deposit (also certified mail — she may never claim it). I also agree about trying to find an emergency contact because it is bizarre that she would just go MIA.
      Sorry you’re dealing with this very odd situation. I can promise most renters don’t give people money then disappear.

    • Anonymous

      If OP is talking about legally voiding the contract, then, no, calling and e-mailing is not sufficient. Probably sending a certified letter isn’t, either, unless it says certain specific things. Although it isn’t a bad move.
      This is a weird situation. Good luck, OP.

  • Jaded

    Hire an attorney and read up on DC Tenants Laws. You are correct in wondering what a DC landlord should do given DC laws and regulations. In most other jurisdictions what you have already done would probably be enough to cover yourself.

  • bv1837

    It’s not as simple as you think because DC gives tenants a LOT of rights, regardless of what the lease says. You may need to file a case for eviction for non-payment of rent in order to actually get her out. You should go visit the Landlord-Tenant Resource Center at the DC Court Building B. It’s open 9:15-12 daily, but get there early because it fills up.

    • Robert

      Agree. Having been a DC landlord, brace for shock.

    • Marty

      How would you evict someone that never moved in?
      I think that the strong protections in DC for renters are to keep them from being “kicked out on the street” unreasonably. That certainly isn’t the issue here.

      • Anon

        Bc she could decide to move in tomorrow, and there is a contract. With a signed lease, she is a tenant and has rights. Landlords don’t get to exercise self help just bc tenant isn’t there. You can see how an exception like that would cause problems.

        • Marty

          I still say you can’t evict someone who doesn’t actually live in a certain place, but I understand and agree that the tenant’s contact needs to dealt with appropriately, and the LL shouldn’t just put the rental unit back on the market without an appropriate disposition first.

          • ah

            Eviction is not just the physical act of removing someone and their personal property from a rental unit. It is establishing that they no longer have a contractual right to live in the place they have rented.

            Currently the tenant has a lease and could move in tomorrow legally. An eviction proceeding would take away that right on the basis that she hasn’t paid rent.

      • Formerly ParkViewRes

        I agree, but the DC tenant laws are used in ways they weren’t necessarily intended to be used. And it’s just too risky. As a LL in DC it’s important to CYA.

      • bv1837

        Basically they have a right to be there if they’ve paid any rent at all. If they stop paying rent, they have ample opportunity to “correct” (i.e., pay rent owed) before they can be evicted. Even though this person hasn’t moved in, she still has a right to be there and could move in at any point, and doing anything to interfere with that right will put the landlord in a bad spot vis-a-vis the law. I’ve also been in a landlord position and was floored by what I was up against in terms of what the law allows. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the intent of the law is, it applies to all cases, even those that don’t seem to fall under the original intent.

        Don’t do anything without talking to someone who actually knows the law. A visit to the landlord-tenant resource center is worth a couple hours out of your day.

    • Anon

      I would think that because eviction actions are suits for possession, and OP never lost possession, and one key element of a tenancy is payment of rent, which this person never has, OP is good as long as she doesn’t move in today. Not advice but I would change the locks ASAP to prevent this and get my butt to the LT resource center tomorrow 15 min before it opens. And reach out via social media sleuthing, emergency contacts, etc.

      • bv1837

        If she already has keys, don’t change the locks without talking to a lawyer. You can get in major trouble as a landlord for changing the locks when your tenant has a right to access the apartment.

        • Anon

          100% agree with you, except I don’t think this person is a tenant in DC until they’ve paid rent. The resource center people would be able to clarify.

        • FridayGirl

          +1. Changing the locks is an illegal eviction and can get you in big trouble.

    • carlosthedwarf

      Having been on the other side of a similar situation once (landlord backed out of lease a week before the scheduled move-in date), you basically have zero rights as a tenant until you move in. Since the tenant has not moved in yet, the landlord’s sole responsibility is to return whatever money the tenant has given them.

    • DC rule follower.

      Sorry to say that I went to the resource center and waited in line to speak to them. However, they told me they refused to answer my questions about confirming how I dealt with a tenant issue on the up and up. Not sure if it was a one-time fluke but they told me they help tenants with specific docketed cases and not giving legal advice to landlords. Good luck.

  • Mari Inshaw

    I agree with @textdoc that you should check with her emergency contacts to make sure she isn’t in a hospital or on vacation at one of those places where you can’t get a signal and the internet sucks.

    Does she have keys? If she doesn’t have keys and hasn’t moved in, I would prepare for nonpayment and just wait till the 1st (if that’s the day rent is due). If the next month’s rent comes in on or before the due date (assuming she did security deposit and 1st months rent) then you have something else going on and you’ll have to figure out what’s going on. To my knowledge as long as she is paying rent she’s in the right.

    So far she isn’t the worst sort of tenant demanding things on day 1. DC is a renter friendly/landlord hostile city so screen your tenants carefully next time.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Agreed with all of this.

  • skj84

    Agree with textdoc, find out if she has any emergency contacts. If I had signed a lease and paid money down, you bet I’m moving in. The first thing that popped into my mind is she’s in the hospital or dead. Which is pretty morbid, but it just doesn’t make sense that this person wouldn’t respond after making a deposit.

    • FridayGirl

      I agree. But then again, I did have a subletter never who never claimed their security deposit that I returned to them so I think some people are maybe don’t care as much as we do….

    • K

      In grad school I lived in a 3 person group house. I was friends with 1 girl and the other was a rando undergrad recommended by a friend. She was a local who lived at home but wanted to move into her own place, or so we were told. She paid her rent every month but never once stepped foot in the house. Not once. late in the year I held a study session for an undergraduate class I TA’d and she came. Afterward the session I asked her what was up. Evidently she had some social anxiety and her mom thought it would be a good idea for her to move out of the house. So mom paid the rent in hopes daughter would move out, all the while she slept every night at home. Luckily it was Syracuse so the mom was only out about $200 a month. So their is definitely people who would pay for rent but never move in. I am not one of those people. But they do exist.

  • DCrat

    she has a signed lease and a right to possession. I assume she is currently under the lease and not paying. You should file a non-payment case in L&T ASAP and get the unit back. You should also hold the security deposit in an escrow account b/c you are required to pay it back to a departing tenant within 45 days with interest. Do not assume she will never move in and take possession, this could leave you open to a wrongful eviction lawsuit. I would suggest a lawyer, I do enough L&T that I’ve seen pro se landlords trip themselves up and wind up having to start again.

  • houseintherear

    I had a roommate in college who did this but she would send the rent check every month on time- never moved in. I didn’t even want to know what the heck was going on, but my guess is she had a boyfriend and lived with him but didn’t want to tell her parents. I realize this may not be relevant to your situation but thought I’d share.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Agreed. I’d almost think of this as a best-case scenario. Rent paid on time every month, but nobody there to make noise or damage the property. This could potentially be a dream tenant as long as the rent is paid on time! (I do think a check-in with any listed emergency contact might be in order though – I would be concerned for the person’s safety given the likely amount of money being paid in exchange for apparently nothing.)

    • skj84

      The first roommate in my current house paid rent but never moved in. He had a job on the Hill and chose to stay in his apartment nearby as he was gearing up for Hillary’s campaign. He was paying rent on both places! He finally let the room in my place up when he went out on the campaign trail, but it was 3-4 months. Of course we knew what was going on, it wasn’t like he was paying and didn’t keep us updated.

  • Anon

    It’s possible the individual who signed the lease but never moved in found a place she liked better and moved there. The leasee might now be worried the lessor will hold her fully accountable under the provisions of the lease she signed. That could be the reason why there is no responses to the repeated inquiries as to her whereabouts. She simply might have decided to forgo the security deposit and is wanting the entire matter to fade away.

    • Kim

      Yeah, I kinda think this is what happened, in which case, a text from OP like “hey, if you don’t want to move in, fine, we can void the contract and I’ll refund the deposit and we’ll call it even” might be a good idea. Assuming that the value of being able to re-turn-around the rental quickly is more valuable than whatever the deposit was.

  • andy2

    Call you lawyer not PoPville!

  • PJL

    Dear all landlords and tenants asking for legal advice: TALK TO A LAWYER, NOT POPVILLE. This is inevitably what the majority of comments mention and, if you rely on advice from here instead of a lawyer, you’re not doing yourself any favors. I’m all for these Dear PoPville questions in general, but when the answer for the landlord/tenant questions is always the same, people should just skip the middle man and find themselves an attorney.

    • ExWalbridgeGuy

      People always say this on these threads: “don’t ask us, lawyer up right away” but it’s actually bad advice. Maybe awful advice. Lawyering up gets extremely expensive really quickly so if you think there’s even a chance that crowd-sourced wisdom will lead to a free solution that you hadn’t thought of it’s nearly always at least worth giving it a try. What if it’s the situation Kim describes and a text message phrased that way solves the problem for free?
      Even narrowing down the issues you need to consider can easily save you hundreds or thousands vs. sitting down with a lawyer to figure out all the issues. There will be some issues where lawyer is indeed the right answer but it’s not a bad idea to check (for free) with a big community of people ideas and then going from there.

      • PJL

        “Under the contract, I included the Waiver of notice to quit in the event of non-payment of rent. What do I have to do to void the contract in this case since I don’t even know how to get in contact with her?” The OP asked legal questions about voiding a legal document; those should NOT be crowd-sourced.

        • SnarkyLL

          PJL, Esq. I presume?

      • Anonymous

        Except there already has been wrong advice on this thread.

  • DC Guy

    or she want to use your property address for PK-3 signup.

    Some people from MD or VA are cheating to rent a property in DC to sign up for PK-3 school for free school so they don’t want to pay daycare from 3 years to 5 years old.

    • iwdc

      The fake DC residency seems like a legit angle. If she has a signed lease, even if you evict her, no one is going to know that when she walks up with (what looks like) a valid lease for the next year to establish residency. Although the PreK lottery is already over.

      • Anonamom

        With this angle, she would need the lease when she registers the child, not at the time of the lottery. So the time line holds.

  • Emanon

    At the worst… assuming she hasn’t paid any rent, and the lease term has started, then the second she is past the payment deadline, file in court for eviction. (Since you got the waiver of notice). Would have to wait a couple of weeks for a court date, and try to serve her. But if she never turns up, I imagine you’d get an immediate judgement in your favor.


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