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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170 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Lee

    How long do I have to give my daughter to come get a broke down truck and 2 trailors off my property? It’s been here 8-9 months and we have asked them to please come get them so we can get our land cleaned up and they have yet to even try to come get them but they have come and got tires and there dog. What step do I have to take to be able to legally get the towed off.

  • Annabelle Castaneda

    I had a roommate for a month and she left her personal belongings in my Garage. I send her a text stating she has 30 days to remove her belongings from my garage . She never bother to respond to me , now I am force to send her a Certified Letter through the mail , and see if she communicate with me .

  • Sam

    I rented a shop to a guy to work out of and the only thing he did was sell drugs so I told him to go and told him I want the cops here when he comes to get his junk it’s been 13 days and he hasn’t even tried to come get anything except for the one night that he came while I was sleeping and got some stuff including some of my stuff what do I need to do with his 3 cars 1 Harley motorcycle and mis tools (junk)

    • what kind of cars and motorcycle exactly and do they run or start , have you seen any keys or are they stolen maybe?


      • Sam

        One car was his he did not leave the keys. Another car was one he was supposed to be working on and wasn’t. One car he finally came and got 5 months ago because he had it sold and the motorcycle he then was told he could get everything else as long as he set up a time and day to come get them while I was there 5 months now he still has not came to get them told me that he wasn’t going to set up a time to come. I know why it’s because when he comes the drug task force is going to pick him up. Its getting to be a hassle for me I am going to have to now soon and won’t be able to with these 2 cars and junk in my yard. #gettingsickofit

    • Jess

      I let a friend who is not a tenant in my building use one of my storage rooms to store furniture, boxes and personal items. This person doesn’t have a lease or pay rent for the room. I haven’t heard from her for about a year and l want her stuff out of the room. I’ve tried calling, texts, email and letters but l haven’t gotten any replies from her. What else can l do to try and contact this person? I know l can’t just throw her stuff out or sell it but when is it considered abandon property?

      • Joanna deprim

        I moved into my fiances aunts house and stored my belongings in locked camper for 4 months he kicked me out stole have my stuff and wont give back my belongings this is not his property his aunt is the owner.i want whats left how

      • Virginia Williams

        It’s best to call the police. So you want get into trouble for anything.

  • Cassandra Bradford

    I took a homeless person in and they had nothing. This person left while I was aways from home without notice in 2013. I received a letter from attorney demanding property I never had. The person is dillusional I feel now from their brain injury.

    Can I be sued or is there a statue of limitation? I am shocked and disappointed the lies now being told.

    Would this person have to prove the allegation?

  • sm powell

    tenant has left the property and fail to communicate with me a it has been two month and she has not return to get clothes. can i remove the items and notify her to come get them with in 5 days?
    I only have a phone number to reach her?

  • Kerri Milner

    I let my cousin stay with me for 2 weeks it didn’t work out she paid a power bill and said if I gave the money back to her she would leave so I did and have her a receipt on a carbon copy and had 2 witnesses to sign she got everything out of the house but left stuff in my building outside I gave her 7 days to get it. I have moved her stuff outside under an onning and covered it up quiet well can she take me to court for this sure seems to think she can.

  • Lucero

    Police let person take abandon property from private property without permission

  • Pam

    My landlord had left his stuff in the garage can we duduct rent until he gets it out? And can you

  • Pam

    My landlord has left his stuff in the garage can we duduct rent until he gets it out? And can the landlord come into garage whenever he feels like it?

  • Patricia jennings

    What do I do if someone left property on my property and they did not have a lease and will not come get the property

    • Betty Freed

      I have similar problems. Since May I had helped a older lady move. Put everything on my property which has been in my family for 100years. When I gave her a 7 day notice to remove her stuff. She refused started staying in her camper for a couple days on my property I call sheriff they said I had to evict. I tried she wasn’t heard of for two months. Text two days ago saying I sold her stuff. Which it is all there an I have been paid nothing. 3 vehicle an a Harley an her camper plus car trailer of house hold items. She now owes me a great sum of money.. what do I do?

    • Annette

      What do I do if someone left property on my property and they did not have a lease and will not come get the property out of my house.

      • Trina

        I have a similar situation. I had stopped by the renters a week prior to my walkthrough of the home. My great Aunt never had a lease with the tenants and I am now POA. In the meantime, I spoke with a lawyer and agreed we would evict and put the home up for sale. I went back a week later to do my walkthrough and hand them the writ to evict, giving them a full month to leave. They were gone and left all the crap they didn’t want. No notice that they were leaving. I literally do not have a way to contact them to ask them their intentions. It has been 2 weeks now and no one has come to claim. Can I have everything hauled to the dump?


        I hv a mom tht past and her caretaker stole car, truck,jewlery and left in may mom past in march we got heirship started gettn stuff out and now this idiot thinks he has tools etc there ..there was no tools only a desk tht is collapsible. He had chgd his address prior and forged those titles claimin we sold to him ..

  • Kathy

    My x husband abandoned a toolbox full of tools in 2005 we started seeing again September of 2016 he moved back in with me in March 2017 moved out February of this year while I was on vacation he took the toolbox and tools. Who legally does it belong to??

  • Deloies Kilgore

    What can i do if my landlord promise to fix up the house that im renting from him. And he disappear for 2 and 1/2 years and didn’t do anything to the house. and I’ve been taking care of the property ever since then he appear back and try to claim like he didn’t know that I live on the property. is lying to people scandalizing my name what can I do about that. Oh then he call the police. On me. Please give me some advice. Thanks very much.

  • Michael

    So my roommate, left without saying anything, just that his getting the rent money and never came back, owes rent from last month, first month and deposite money agreed on, and cost of bills for this month, I feel lke their just trying to leave and not paid, they left a good amount of property. Am I allowed to hold that until the money is owed paid back or what is the best way to get my money, someone please help because this is putting me behind and I can’t lose my house of I will be homeless.

  • JO

    The LandLord leaves furniture for 4 years and I moved and took the furniture. she wants it back. is it hers?? can i keep it. it was there for 4 years along with other stuff!! dO i HAVE AND LEGAL RECOUSE TO KEEP THE FURNITURE??

  • Terry Hamilton

    I have a so called friend that asked if she could park her travel traler on my proprty . She then got arrested on feb. 4 , 2018 . I still have her property on my property . Her mom refuses to pay the rent for the past 2 months .She is still in jail. what can i do to have the property removed and back rent paid?

  • Cheryl

    I had a tenant who left everything behind. Someone was supposed to come and get it and hasn’t. It has now been 30+ days. She also owes one month of rent from before she left and the month that she left all her stuff. Can I hold her stuff until she pays? Can I give her a deadline which we will have a sale of her property?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Cheryl,
      Not paying rent and leaving property behind are two separate issues and need to be treated as such. For the property, what to do is outlined in this post along with a sample letter that you could send. If it’s still not picked up by the deadline you set in the letter, you can sell the stuff, but if your former tenant comes to pick it up before the deadline, you must give it to them. You can’t hold their property for ransom. If tenants don’t pay rent, you can keep the security deposit and sue for any remainder owed. Note that to keep the security deposit, you need to send a letter stating why you are keeping it. Good luck!

  • Alicia Helm

    we don’t have a current address for the tenants. Will a text suffice as notice?

  • Lisa Stanley

    My brother moved out of our home but didn’t take most of his belongings. Is it illegal to hold his mail until he picks up his stuff?

  • Carol J Joens

    Some friends have left some Hospital stuff like a hospital bed a wheelchair and a Hoyer lift it has been here for about 2 to 3 months even if they have documentation can they still take it back after it has been abandoned

  • Tami Halverson

    A divorced tenant who lived in my 3BR apartment for 9 years, recently passed away. The entire apartment is packed full of stuff. His 21 year old son took the suburban, a motorcycle and a few things from the apartment. It has been 35 days. Can I release the items to any relative that contacts me? The tenant had one brother that he did not trust and did not allow into his apartment. That brother and a sister are requesting to be allowed to take things. There are a few things of value such as tools, flat screen TVs, etc. There is also lots of things with very little value. Please advise.

  • Keion

    I have a roommate who apparently has left the home in which we rent together. She has never mentioned anything to me about leaving but i haven’t seen her in weeks and i know that she has been in and out now and again to pick up clothes i assume. Another month has started and all her belonging are still here is she still liable to pay rent?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Keion,
      If your roommate is still in and out and has belongings there, it sounds as though she is still there and would, therefore, still need to pay rent.

  • dave

    Some one left ower Rentel property with out notice and left everything In the house and left 1 pickup the person owe back rent water garbage and power we cleaned it and rented it back out what do we gada do with the pickup with no tital the person is on the run so what we gada do please help

  • Denise Dunkle

    We had a tenant leave a large sum of money in their unit when they vacated. We have made several attempts to reach out to this tenant, but no response. What actions are required at this point? Is our legal requirement to send to the state’s department of Unclaimed Funds?

  • byrron mcneill

    I used to live in nassau county ny.The property where I used to live was sold.The new owners sent a letter asking me to leave 3 years ago I finally moved to another state.I still have equipment and tools in the garage,can they dispose of my stuff without notice/

  • Laura Rodgers

    I have been unable to find info addressing my circumstances. Live in Texas. My brother left his property behind in his apartment and chose to disappear from the family. The landlord entered his property after winning the eviction process and discovered a note directing the landlord to contact me to remove his property that included 2 registered vehicles. Police did track him down so it has been confirmed that he is alive. I want to handle this correctly to avoid problems should he reappear. Help would be greatly appreciated.

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