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No, you don't have to evict if the tenant is not in possession of the residential unit. Eviction is only required to remove a tenant from the premises. When the tenant surrenders keys or takes some action that unambiguously indicates an intent to vacate the premises, that means that eviction will not be necessary. You should document the personal items that were left there (take pictures, etc...) and put them in a safe place until the tenant comes to pick them up.
But because the tenant has clearly abandoned the property and has no intent on making any claim to a right of possession, you don't have to go through any eviction process.
Now he did not directly hand me the keys - he told me to get the keys out the mailbox. Does that matter?
No. Again, so long as he takes SOME action to unambiguously indicate that he's surrendering possession, that's enough.
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Tenant is now claiming he never gave me the key.. and that he will sue me..does he have any grounds?
Thanks again. I have a sworn statement from his friend stating that he was aware he no longer had control of the home specially since he had never had paid or moved in to the home.does that help?