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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173 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Hurlicia Toson

    My pastor allowed someone to put their furniture in an upstairs room at our church 1 1/2 years ago The person told him that he would get it in 2 weeks. He hasn’t removed them in spite of the several requests to do so. The sheriff told my pastor that he couldn’t dispose of it. What legal ramifications do the church have to remove his furniture?

  • Lisa

    My daughter and grandson lived with me up until 8 months ago she got her own place.But she still have alots of stuff here and of my grandson I haze been asking here all awhile long when n can you.Please come and get y’all stuff still as if right now till this day everything still remain to be here so what do I do or what can be done and I live in Delaware.

  • peter

    I had a guest come to my home. Unbeknownst to me this “Guest” then changed his address to my address to in effect try to establish residency in Connecticut. I asked this guest to leave when I found out that he wasn’t who he said he was. This “guest” left a large inventory of his belongings here. That was 7 months ago. I have inventoried them, stored them in a safe dry place, have notified him via Email, Text, and Phone that he needs to collect his stuff to now avail. What can I do next?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Peter,
      Did you put a date on your notifications as to when he needs to pick up his stuff? I have included a sample letter and what to do in cases like yours in this post. Good luck!

      • peter

        I have done that several times over the past several months to no response.

        • Laura Agadoni

          Hi Peter,
          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.

          • peter

            We are talking about the state of Connecticut here. First of all , This person was a GUEST in my home. He paid no rent, had no lease or contract. Its been 7 months. He has claimed that he has reached out to me previously but I have no record of it in any email, text, or phone between January and May of 2018. He also claims that he will bring the police to arrest me for stealing his property. Yet when an appointment is made via Email, text and phone, he won’t show up cancelling at the last possible moment with no plausible reason for the cancellation.

  • Dee Graber

    My brother in law has multiple items stored at my mother in laws . It has been in her garage for at least 3. My mother in laws health is deteriorating. She has ask my husband which is her power of attorney and executive of her estate to let him know she wants him to come and get it all out of her garage. Would the letter above be appropriate to send him. Letting him know he has 30 days to come pick it all up. There was no agreement on how long he could store it there. Also no agreement of paying storage as well. Thank you

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Dee,
      Since this is family, you might want to make the letter friendlier and more personal. The template I gave as an example is businesslike, which is perfectly fine to use as is as well. And yes, the facts would remain, such as listing the belongings, asking that they be picked up by a certain date, and letting them know what you will do with the items if they are not picked up.

  • Amy

    When I left my husband 8 years ago we resided in a house owned by his parents. I packed up what was needed by my children and myself – which was mostly essentials and some small sentimental items. Now that my ex and his father have had a falling out, he no longer lives in that house. His father is now calling me telling me I need to clean out the house or he is going to hire an attorney and make me pay all fees (attorney, cleaning, dumpster, etc.). Can he do this when I have not lived there for 8 years?

  • Dana

    I let a friend move into my guestroom more than 2 years ago, when she was down on her luck. I lent her $1750 too. She now has a great job and moved out in May. She continues to keep her furniture and other poseessions here and hasnt paid me back any money. My garage is packed with her sofas and has been for 2 years +. Ive asked her to pay something every paycheck, $100, but get excuses everytime. Can I sell her stuff in my garage to recoup the money Ive lent her? And how should I go about it? I live in Texas.

  • Elton

    My renters left my house a disgusting mess. Water was disconnected, waste and garbage everywhere. They did however leave a racecar, tools and a few engines behind. More than the amount of money owed to me for damages. My tenant refuses to come see me to pick up the car and misc parts. He is trying to get family to get it for him. I have refused to give property to anyone but him. Can I send him a notice and set a any date I want for a deadline to pick property up? If so and he fails to do so is said property then mine. I live in Illinois

  • KA

    My sister purposely “hid” a boat, a Porsche, and a Viper on our mother’s land (unbeknownst to her) for tax evasion purposes while my mother was in and out of the hospital and nursing homes for several years. My sister was evicted from HER home by IRS and knowingly did not relinquish the above mentioned property, but hid these items on my mother’s land. My mother ONLY ALLOWED my sister and her family to live in her own home for 4 months when they were evicted by IRS because they had nowhere else to go. Now, my family and I have had to move in with my mother while selling our own home to take care of mom. We are currently in process of adding my name to Mom’s property and wanted above property removed as they haven’t been maintained in a yr

  • mary

    my sons girlfriend left 2 weeks ago to visit family in another state she came back ( not to our home)but to our state 2 weeks later for court broke up with my son on the phone come to find out she was cheating on him she has yet come to get her belongings how can i legally remove them she has blocked all of us from her phone social media etc changed her job her address etc how cn i remove her stuff without getting in trouble

  • Amanda

    So my mom moved in at the end of April with a verbal agreement of $300 to cover the cost of rent, electricity, gas, garbage, water, and sewage. She told me two nights ago she is moving out. She left and has no been back since. She called me today and told me that she is coming to get some of her belongings but can not take them all. I told her I can not store her stuff (some stuff has been here for years) now do I have to store her stuff legally even if she is going about this illegally and did not provide a 30 day notice?

  • Andrew

    Hi Laura Agadoni,

    About the Notice of Right to Reclaim Abandoned Property in California.

    The premises was on fire, and then the survey asbestos report is positive. What do I need to notify my tenants?

    Can I still use the above letter: ……To this date, the property has not been picked up. This is your notice that unless this property is picked up by [give date], the property in question will be disposed of…..

    Thank you

  • Evelyn

    My family member was on,y here two weeks and they had no permission to store their items in my garage or my shed. I had to throw out, do I still have to give them notice. They were not renting. They were homeless. I made a mistake and let them move in for two weeks it was 7 people. Two adults with five kids a nightmare in two bedroom.

  • Nicole

    I’ve been renting my house to the same lady for 2 yrs. She hasn’t paid in last 4 months, and she was always late when she did pay. She moved to a new place before our court date (not sure if she gave a notice to whom that may concern), but left a decent amount much stuff. I have text her multiples times, and she has also told me several times now that she is coming to pick stuff up, but never shows. She moved out roughly 3-4 weeks ago. She was really filthy, dog poop, and trash all over the floor. All of the clothes she left upstairs smell of cat yurine, which is stinking up now my basement (which is where I moved everything). Please help. What should I do with her belongings? I live in Pennsylvania.

  • Lashae Jackson

    Yes I have question my landlord sent me a text message of a 30 day notice to move . No court order or written letter was sent to me just a text message . I owed him a little money but was holding it until he fixed something instead of fixing it . I got a text to leave in 30 in text form… Now i left but i only took what I needed and left the rest ….He said even if i paid what i owed I still had to move. I told him i didn’t want to go this want right so I left in the end…I left my couch and other things . He said its illegal for me to leave my stuff there in Virginia is that true….Living in a motel right now do I have a case for court.. thank you

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Lashae,
      Look up your state law regarding how your landlord must notify you to vacate. It’s usually by mail. However, if you are behind in your rent, your landlord can give you a 3-day notice to pay or leave. If you don’t do either, your landlord can evict you. If you have an eviction on your record, it will be difficult for you to rent another place.

      Regarding withholding rent: that is never good because your landlord can evict you. If you need something fixed, give your landlord a chance to fix it. When you get a notice to vacate, that includes your property. Your landlord can give you a date to get your stuff out by, and if you don’t, they can get rid of it. Your landlord can’t re-rent with your stuff still there.

      • Lashae Wilson

        Yes hello he never gave me a notice to be gone he texted me …. So I left he told me it was illegal to leave my belongs in the house after I told him I didn’t want nothing I left there … So I was just checking if it was illegal …. If so I’ll make a way to get it out …. I will looking into it , I understand about the payment but when it’s mold in ur house next to ur ac that’s not good and I have a child that has asthma.. He knows this so , I held it until he fix the situation but thank okay …. I’m calling legal aid to help thanks …

  • Kyra

    What do you do if the landlord didn’t inform you in a letter or email about furniture and other valuables being stored but weeks later tell you they got rid of it all?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Kyra,
      You can try taking your landlord to small claims court. It’s not good practice, however, to leave your belongings behind. When you move from a place, that includes you and your belongings. When you leave things behind, the landlord has the right to charge you for storage and/or removal costs. Landlords can’t re-rent a place with leftover belongings still there.

  • Mark J Mathison

    My friends son parked his travel trailer in my yard i rent from my landlord he left it told me he could come get it cuss he was work 3 weeks later i pull it off my property and park it on side of the road. Can he file theft

  • Gayle

    The landlord at my mother in-laws place had a fly by night towing company drag my vehicle out of the driveway. There was an agreement with my mother in law that if she couldn’t buy it I’d then sell it or donate it ! But instead the landlord told the owner of the tow company to take the vehicle and sell it . There’s also company property in it as well as my engagement ring that I can’t get out of the drivers seat cushion .
    What can I do , the CT police won’t help me when I reported it stolen

  • Jason bosco

    My car is being held at my old residence and police won’t let me have it.for months now

  • Olivia

    I am the only leaseholder of a rental unit in Portland, Maine. I have had roommates throughout the time I have rented the unit beginning in 2016. Recently, I had a roommate move in starting in May 2018. He took his time getting me payments (always in cash). He paid 1st month and security eventually. He paid some of June’s rent. He had made a deal with my landlord to paint the house and was given an advance. He left the house in a worse state than when he started with paint chips surrounding the building and shutters off. He had been making more trips back to VT. On June 26th, he left Portland, ME with some of his belongings but left the majority of them behind. I kept thinking he would return. He told me he would pay for July rent—I thought he would be back before July started. He did not return and left me with the full July rent and utilities to pay. Mid July I was concerned that I had not heard from him. I had been upset that he did not pay his portion but as time went on I wondered if he was okay. I paid for the cheap contact part of a background report and made some phone calls to his family members. It took a while for anyone to be able to reach him. His daughter was the only one who had contact. He had been dropping phone numbers and getting new ones. He changed his stories each time I communicated with him and on several occassions did not keep his word. He started harassing me after his ex, brother, and mother got in touch with him. I was afraid.

    He returned to the unit while I was away from town at work. My landlord and the police were involved when he returned. He made the female police officer feel uncomfortable. He had a daughter who stayed in the spare room a few nights over the time he had lived there (custody battle and I guess he has only paid $100 in child support for the full year). I had no idea that he also had a son with his ex-wife. August came and he didn’t pay or retrieve his belongings peacefully and go his separate way. I had to pay $400 for his faulty deal with my landlord, $1000 for his July rent, $1000 for August rent plus about $150 extra for utilities for the 2 months on top of my portions of the rent and utilities. He had told me that he did not want me to contact him and that any contact he would try to prove as harassment. I stopped reaching out or responding to any of his texts, threats, etc.

    It has been over 4 months now since he last lived/slept at the unit. Before I got a new roommate for September, a friend and I packed up and conscientiously stored his belongings in the basement. 4 months later I do not know what to do with his belongings which are taking up a substantial amount of space. I don’t think it is worth much but I think that there are some things that would definitely have sentimental value. My landlord does not want him on the property again whatsoever as he thinks he is a loser and con-artist. Could you give me ideas of what my legal options are in this situation? Thank you!

  • terri french

    I allowed my adult daughter to come and stay with me for “a few months” to get on her feet. She brought a car, a motorcycle and tons of belongings and eventually a small trailer which she parked in my driveway and sleeps in. It’s been a year now and I have given her 30 days notice to vacate. She does not pay rent or have any contract. Assuming she leaves physically I intend to give her 30 days to get her property and vehicles off of my property and out of my house, but am wondering about the trailer and motorcycle. It’s in her name…do I call police or have it towed? It isn’t worth much if anything. I am in California. Thanks!

  • Debra Machka

    My ex husband moved out 14 years ago and left all his junk in the attic. He only lives 2 houses down. I’m paying rent, so would that belong to me?

  • Debra Machka

    My previous comment I failed to say I am not the land lord. I’ve been here 35 years. And I am paying rent. I will be moving and cleaning out the attic. I can throw it out right?

  • Jesus

    I’m in California the car was never a band then I had to the 16th of November I went on the 16th of November to pick up the car the landlord has the car tow on the 15th

  • Mark Allan Strohecker

    I let a friend I knew stay in a empty bedroom till he found a place.He lied about his prior place and I found he got evicted.I told him he can stay for no more then two weeks.He wouldn’t leave he brought a cat in not allowed,doing crack and made his life miserable and even gave two written notices to vacate.He is not on my lease just a guest.Finally he just left without notice and left a bed,tv,clothes,.Clothes were put out and covered well cause he said he was coming for them.Never showed cause was in the hospital cause noone will take him in and so he had to get another free lift.He never picked the other stuff up by due date given.Isn’t that abandoned property??

  • Sarita

    I have a tenant in IL that has left the house. His lease has expired as of last week. However, has texted that he still has stuff in the house that he will collect (with no date or deadline)in the future. He only communicates via text and seems to have moved to CA. Owes us 8 months rent. Is willing to hand over the keys. Am I ok to get inside and change my locks? What do I do with the left over stuff (not sure what they are).

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Sarita,
      If the lease is up and your tenant has left, then the place is yours. It’s a good idea to always change locks after a tenant leaves. As to what to do with abandoned property, I have covered that in the article. Good luck!

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