What to Do with Abandoned Personal Property

Written on July 9, 2015 by , updated on December 3, 2019

Abandoned Personal Property61 percent of current renters say they will continue to be renters for at least three more years, according to a 2014 survey by Freddie Mac.

That’s great news for landlords!

But all tenants eventually move out. Unfortunately, some tenants don’t leave the place as nice as it was when they moved in.

You probably expect to do some cleaning and maybe some minor repairing, but you likely don’t expect to find your tenant’s property left behind.

And if you do find that your property is full of their stuff, it doesn’t mean a bonanza for you. You now need to deal with this abandoned property according to the laws of your state.

Garbage Left Behind

Obvious garbage is one thing. You’re safe to throw out abandoned beer bottles, rotting food and old newspapers. (And we understand if you’re feeling something other than warmth for your ex-tenants at this time.)

But stuff with value, such as TVs, bicycles, furniture, clothes and those $700 Air Jordan sneakers that someone waited in line to get, all need to be dealt with properly. Otherwise, you could pay for any missteps you might take.

“…you could pay for any missteps you might take”

Reason the Tenant Left

Besides states having different requirements on what landlords need to do when they find abandoned property, sometimes the state rules are different depending on the circumstances in which the tenant left.

For example, you might be able to deal with the property differently when a tenant leaves because the lease is up versus a tenant who leaves because of eviction or who just leaves without giving notice.

You also can typically treat the property differently if you have written confirmation that the tenant will not be returning.

Some Common Sense Steps to Take

Here are three general, common sense measures you can take that might fix the abandoned property issue the easy way, no matter where you live or what the circumstances behind the vacancy were:

  1. Itemize Everything
    List all the items of value left behind. Take a photo or video of each item to show its condition.
  2. Get a Witness
    Invite a neutral party to come over (such as a neighbor) to watch you move the items to a safe place in the property itself or to a storage unit.
  3. Notify the Tenant
    Notify your tenant in writing, sent certified mail to the last known address, return receipt requested. You can additionally send an email to help ensure your tenant sees your notice. Let your tenant know what was left behind and what you’ve done with the property. State that your tenant has until a certain date to claim the property. If the property is not picked up by the deadline, state that you will dispose of the property.

Generally speaking, you can deduct any costs that you incur to store or advertise the property for sale from the security deposit. However, you should state this in a letter you send to your tenant explaining the reason for withholding the amount.

Here’s a sample letter you could send:

Many landlords choose to allow seven or 10 days for tenants to pick up the property, unless the state specifies the length of time. Many times, if the tenant doesn’t claim his or her property by the deadline, your state allows you to throw away the personal property, donate it or sell it.

Property that Becomes Yours

You can keep property the tenant left that would now be considered a fixture, which is anything the tenant attached to walls or ceilings.

This includes things like shelves, built-in bookshelves and lighting equipment. Fixtures that the tenant put in are considered part of the rental property, and landlords can keep them.

Abandoned Vehicles

If your tenant abandoned that car he or she never could get running, call the police.

Cars often don’t fall under the same laws as other abandoned property does. Let the police tow the car and determine whether it was abandoned.

Have you dealt with abandoned property? What did you do with it? Let us know in the comments!

photo credit: Brian Oh
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