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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172 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Morris L Wyatt

    Your information is invaluable. I appreciate it’s availability. Thank you

  • Laura Agadoni

    Thank you Morris! I appreciate the comment!

  • Cox

    I am new to USA laws etc so this is all good info. thank you for you time in providing this.

  • Laura Agadoni

    Thank you Cox! I’m glad I could help.

  • Stacy

    I was reading the article on abandoned property. However, it doesn’t have a section on abandoned pets. We a tenant who is supposed to be leaving at the end of the month, which is now. It appears a majority of her belongings are gone, there is a pile of junk left on the bed and her large dog is inside of a crate. We have gone inside to find this and it also appears that someone is coming and going long enough to feed and take it outside. We are not able to reach this tenant. Would it be enough if I wrote the above note, specifying the need to remove the dog by a certain date and then stating the plan to call animal control/shelter? It seems like this person is moving out, but cannot take her dog with her because it is large and loud. Help!

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Stacy,
      How terrible! The laws differ on pets than for property; pets could die if not cared for. Your tenant might still have plans for the dog since the rental period isn’t yet over. Try to contact them again. If they don’t answer, leave a message telling them that if the pet is not out by the time the lease ends, you will either call animal control or take the dog to a shelter, whichever you prefer. I would encourage (if you don’t wish to keep the dog yourself) to take it to a no-kill shelter. Otherwise the dog could be euthanized. Send a letter to your tenant, and post a note on the door of the property of where the dog is. Your tenant could be charged with animal cruelty, too.

      • Sara

        I am a roommate if my girlfriend who was evicted 26 days ago. She’s not contacting the landlord because they don’t get along. So I am. Do I have any rights if I am unable to get the property by the 30 day Mark? We live in ND. Thx

  • Rae

    Hi, My tenant abandoned his lease and put a stop service on utilities, which reverted back to me on Feb 10th. That day we changed the locks and secured the home and all the tenants personal property, what was left, inside. I sent a certified letter, per Kansas Statues, telling him that he would not be receiving his security deposit back, due to considerable damages, theft and unpaid lease rents, of which we would take measures to recover. We had not heard from him until that point, and he sent me an email saying he would counter sue us. My question, I have to publish a notice in the paper this week regarding the disposal of his property, do you have a sample of how to word that notice?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Rae,
      In Kansas, the notice needs to include the tenant’s name, a description of the abandoned property, and the approximate date that you plan to sell, donate, or dispose of the property.

      Sample: This notice is to alert [tenant’s name] that they left behind at [address of rental property] [list property]. If you do not pick up this property by [date], it will be [say what you intend to do].

      Good luck with this!

  • Lybda

    I am trying to send a certified letter to a lady that still has her horses on a property I took over in renting for my horse. I want their horses gone because they are endangering the welfare of my horse. He is covered from head to toe in bites from their stud horse. They was 4 months behind in rent when I came across the property. How would I wrote a letter for this? I’m located in Missouri.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Lybda,
      Send this woman a certified letter that tells her that she has 30 days to get her horses off your property. Let her know that if she doesn’t retrieve her horses by the 30-day limit, you will get them off your property yourself, such as by calling the Humane Society or whichever organization in your area can perform this service. Please note that this is not legal advice as I am not an attorney.

  • Ashley

    I have someone whose been living here in his trailer who hasn’t shown his face for around 3 months, or paid rent. The laws in my state, (washington) say I need to send a written notice to him informing him that he needs to get his stuff or it will be disposed/sold, but he isn’t living anywhere right now, he’s out on the streets. He used to be homeless and now I guess he’s just living like that again. What do I do?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Ashley,
      You send the written notice to the last address you have for him, which would be the trailer. You never know. He might be having his mail forwarded. But that’s all you can do.

  • amanda

    so i live in the state of wv…i rent a home and allowed my bf to move in my home for a temporary time…i found drugs in his possessions so i called the law which he left five minutes before they got here. i turned the drugs and utensils over to the police. they informed me i would legally have to evict him even tho he has never paid one cent to stay here.i have his stuff packed up cause i was told he has right to his possessions.he said he would be here three different occassions then cancelled to reschedule even further down the road to pick up his personal belongings. if the landlord finds out i found drugs in his possession even tho i called the law she will kick me out…i was not aware he was a drug addict.how long does he have

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Amanda,
      It’s risky to allow people to move in without notifying the landlord. Many leases have language that prohibits this practice, as many landlords wish to screen tenants before they allow them to live on the property. Your landlord may have the right to evict you if your lease prohibits guests to stay longer than a certain period, whether they have drugs or not.
      Regarding the possessions, read the post above under “Some Common Sense Steps to Take.” You might need to hold onto his things for 30 days before you can get rid of them.

  • Confused tenant

    I am on the other side of this equations. We were evicted only the landlord locked up and kept all our property. I am trying to figure out what steps to take to get our items back as my neighbors keep telling me he is meeting people there and selling our items. I also notice he is including a refrigerator, washer, dryer, and freezer in his new advertisements… all mine. He also reported a burglary at the property after he agreed to sell me back my property for $500. This can’t be right! Any advice welcome as we now have nothing and he is still staying I owe him thousands of dollars that he agrees is mostly late fees, over $400 a month in late fees. Help!!!!

    • Confused tenant

      We are in Ga if that matters.

      • Laura Agadoni

        Hi Confused tenant,
        Send your landlord a letter listing your property, and ask for it back with a request of a date that you can come and pick it up. If that doesn’t work, take your landlord to small claims court, and ask for the property back or its value. If you owe your landlord back rent and late fees, your landlord will likely sue you for that.

  • Linda

    Tenant left car and has not come to pick it up. How do we know if money is owed on it?
    We have sent several e-mails there was a response , but still no one has come for it. It has been
    at least 4 weeks.

  • Jen warner

    I have a tenant who hasn’t paid rent for one month and has seemingly abandoned the property, utilities are also off and isn’t responding to any of my messages phone calls or texts. I’m in Texas how should I handle the situation from here on? There is furniture, fridge, wAsher/dryer left. How long should I wait to remove belongings and rent to someone else? He was working out of town and never returned the last lease renewal I sent him so technically was renting under no contract.

  • Amanda

    My brother in law, sister in law, and niece lived with us for a total of one month. The stay ended badly. #1 they didn’t uphold their end of the deal about getting jobs and paying for their expenses, #2 drugs were involved, #3 we were being disrespected. They left on 7/1/16 and took one car load of stuff. The brother in law has since been arrested on drug charges. I requested to call ahead when they plan to come because I wanted the sheriff’s dept to be present as to avoid the drama. Multiple pick up days were scheduled and cancelled. It is over one month later and they won’t come get their belongings until we no longer require the police to be involved. What legal rights do I have to clear their belongings out of my house/yard?

  • stella

    I have a 2 bedroom & gave a room to a 40 yr old female who I gave a verbal notice since November 2015 to vacate .but she abandoned all her belongings for more than 6 weeks now & refuses to remove them what should I do? Roaches crawling everywhere ..can I move them to storage? No way of contacting her .She blocked me from calling her (New York )

  • Rhonda Pruitte

    In Wisconsin, I had a tenant who left on September 11th 2016, she took her clothes and some items. She texted me on September 14th stated her daughter and 2 others were coming by to get the rest of her property. She also stated in the text the items she still needed to remove and also that her daughter and friends would get. Her daughter did come and just got a few things. I sent her a certified letter that since she texted me on the 14th of September she would have 30 days from the 14th of September to get all her property. Shehas not attempted to contact me or anything.. therefore I believe the property is mine correct? It is now October 14th.. can you please verify for me my next possible move..Thank you

  • michael vaughn

    Abandid vehichle from out. Of state left on property?

  • Nutmegdomino

    I have been unemployed in the state of Texas for 4 months and furiously looking for work. I used to make $55/hr and now I cannot find work. In order to not get evicted, i was told to abandon my lease before the landlord had to file through the courts. I did but now I need to know when I become employed again, how can I get my own apartment again? The landlord sent me a bill. Can I rent and payoff bill at the same time? Can I rent since it is apartment abandonment and not eviction? If I file chapter 7, can i still rent an apartment?

  • Jessica Pierce

    My boyfriends ex girlfriend moved out the end of August after a battle to get her out. My question is she has been told through text that she needs to get the remainder of her belongings out and still has yet to do so. They are taking up space in the garage which means it cannot be used for its purpose. We live in Montana, and I am wondering do texts count as contact to get her belongings. It is the end of November and she still has not picked them up, and will not contact now. If a certified letter is sent it would go to last known address which is the residence where her belongings are, how does that work for notification? There really isnt anything of big value there, just some toys and home decor.

  • Jen

    My roommate and his family moved out before his lease up. Huscex wife and son not on the lease but staying here without landlord. Me my husband and his friend sign new lease when old lease expires November 20. She call cops on us under fails report stats my husband and me hit her when we didn’t. I was holding our two tear old son whole time. They told the cops they getting their stuff out Nov 30. And police wrote it in their report. Is nice then they haven’t get rest of their stuff. And we see our landlord and let them know what been going on. Do we still have contact them when we don’t have no toward address nor number to get hold of them only address is the one we are living at and give them 30 days or let our landlord deal it. In Texas.

  • Tony

    I am on the opposite side ( being the renter in this case ) the landlord owes me money for work I have done to this home, and for prorated rent.
    He disappeared after we moved in and changed his phone #.
    We are currently looking for another home but need to know what we can do to recover what he owes us.

  • Sheri in Illinois

    Tenants gave notice 2 months ago they would be moving out. 90% of their belongings have been removed, utilities are no longer in their name. I have the house rented, but need for them to remove the rest of their contents, including a motorcycle which is being stored within the house. Is this considered abandoned property? Does the motorcycle fall under the abandoned vehicle clause? even with it located in the house? Can I change the locks?

  • Autumn

    My roommate was given 30 days to have everything off of our property and she came and got all of her stuff. She did however leave her dog. Our family is very attached and plans to keep her but she is now trying to come after us for prior vet bulls even though she was told several times to come and get the dog. What do I do?

  • Gee in baltimore

    Hi I rented my basement to a guy whom I did not know was on probation as a sex offender and a criminal
    He is now in jail and has left his things in my basement I have an eviction coming up soon
    After posting the notices on the door the next day someone took it down I feel he has people lurking around my house and coming inside when I am sleeping although he is in jail how can I have him remove his things on eviction day or what do I do with his things when the sheriff comes to evict him and he is not here

  • Jeffrey Lambert

    Only have a verbal agreement on commercial property 4 work supplies and running a small business landlord has become weird and claiming I owe him money and his holding my property on his land. Blocking the road so I cannot retrieve it, landlord owes me money for work is lying

  • Jenny Marquez

    What laws do i have to fallow if someone was only a guest for 3 weeks in my house , and no longer is allowed to stay in my house, she came last night trying to break in but I told her come at decent hour so police came they watched her grab a few thing and told her to notify me today between 8-8 to pick up the rest of her stuff but she hasn’t what laws do i have to fallow if she was only a guest not a resident and only here for 3 weeks and has been told she has to leave the 2nd week. She wants to play games cuz she was trying to stay 30 days do i would havr to go through legal procedures, what righsright do i have if the officofficer told her to come get her stuff today between 8-8 and she hasn’t picked it up can I put it by door step?

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