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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176 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Jo

    My mother was evicted in Missouri. She was told her items would be put on the curb, but they were not. How can they be retrieved if she’s been locked out.

  • jack Ragsdale

    After 10 years of renting an apartment from my landlord, and paying my rent on time every month for ten years, never late one time, I was presented with a (Notice To Vacate) in 10 days after I informed my landlord I was contacting the Health Department and The Code Enforcement, due to her continuous failure to repair and maintain the septic tank which is used myself and another tenant. This neglect on her part resulted in my shower backing up and my toilet overflowing and not flushing. This situation has gotten worse over the last three years, my health has become worse, many plumbers have told her the tank has a hole in it, and the drains are not working properly. I am diabetic, quadruple bypass survivor, and a skin cancer survivor.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Jack,
      I’m not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice. As a landlord, however, I know that we are generally not allowed to use retaliation to remove a tenant. You might want to contact an attorney to determine whether that is what is happening here. Good luck!

  • Mark

    Had a guy live here temporary.But he broke all agreements.Bringing in a cat and were just talking a bedroom and trashed it and caught him doing crack.I gave him notice to vacate.He wouldn’t leave and finally one day he just didn’t come back wouldn’t answer my texts.I gave him 12 chances to come and get his belongings never responded and never came.Its been over 30 days and our idiot police say he can just walk in and get his stuff and I said no he can’t.he was giving adequate time to pick a day and time and never came.Its my house what can I do with his stuff and since he abandoned his stuff can he just walk in??and do I have to let him him

    • Bryan Lamunion

      I had a renter that left on Christmas day he has come back twice got personal belongings to sell he has not been here for 3 months he is 4 months behind on rent what is my legal obligation of the personal belongings that he left behind??

    • Cyndy Nipp

      I’m not sure what the outcome of your situation was but I had the exact same situation just happened about 30 minutes ago. This tenant hasn’t been in my home for two months and we did not have a lease he was a week to week and he got arrested for doing drugs so we asked him to leave which he did. He left a few bongs behind which gave him the right to come in and out of my house anytime you want it then he all of a sudden decided that he wanted all of his stuff immediately within the hour and I had to drop everything in the police force me to let him in my home even though he’s closest money for to rent payments and there’s damage to the room that where the carpet has to be replaced there’s holes burned into it

    • Linda

      Hey, Mark – change the locks on your door, that way he needs to bring the police with him and no one can enter unless you are there to ensure that the crackhead doesn’t rob you blind, as those types are prone to do even to their own parents and children ….. even the police know how those sorts of people are

  • Katie Brandt

    i’m in Virginia. I have a tenant that stopped answering texts and phone calls. How do I give him 7 day notice if I don’t know where he is at? He is not at the house anymore and the house appears abandoned, but he still has some stuff in there. Also, what do I do with the rest of his properties?

  • Robin

    I live in South Carolina, & around spring of 2018, I moved in to an apt where, several months later, I discovered a ton of items left up in the attic that was left behind by previous tenants. I told the landlord who got in touch with them & gave them my #, but I never heard from them. Therefore, I did my own investigating & found where he was on Facebook, so I sent him a message. He replied & said his wife must have left it behind when they moved, but he would send her to pick it all up. That’s been over 2 months ago, & no one has ever showed up & this stuff is in my way. Please tell me what I need to do about this situation… thanks!

    • Mark S

      I am kinda in the same position but let a person stay here tempoary.He just got up and left one day been 3 months now texted him,emailed him told him several times a date to.get it by and.I got no response.So I.put it outside on the porch all bagged up well and.put two tarps over them.He would sneak onto the porch when.not there and have told the police and they said if you have.his stuff he.can.just walk in and get it.I told them.up there a??and said he.abandoned his stuff,never replied back and he was reading them gave him.oppurtunity to come and he didn’t.he has.been evicted out of many homes.is a slob and.noone.will help him.Sells his.food stamps after my.in investigation i gotta toss the rest
      can I ?

      • Robin

        Bless your heart! Sounds as tho you’ve really had a time of it! I hope this person will claim the rest of his things, otherwise, I’d either donate it or trash it!

  • Jessica


    My son was severely assaulted by an individuals friend in the appartment. He sustained fractures, TBI. We moved him out while he was in the hospital, due to the trauma sustained. We were fearful of retaliation as there is an active investigation. The landlord received notice 1 month ago with unit keys. Some of his belongings were left behind as I did not know what was his. Landlord waited 30 days to tell us and is charging him rent cause his stuff is still in apartment. We can’t get belongings because keys were sent back a month ago. He waited a full month to notify him. Any advice?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Jessica,
      I’m sorry about what happened to your son. As for my advice, I would pay the rent you owe. If someone’s belongings are still in the unit, that means they are still in the unit as far as rent is concerned. Tell the landlord you would like to get the belongings, and the landlord should let you in to do that.

  • Christopher

    I just signed a lease with a co tenant. Ten days later she became emotionally unstable and I had to leave the property. She kept sending emails and messages to 3rd parties making libel statements without consulting me directly. She took over most of the property and has tried to keep me from using the bathroom, kitchen basement etc. I did return briefly one time to get some things out She blocked the door and attempted to pull her gun on me. I filed a police report. I just want to get away from this individual. I’m consulting a lawyer. What can I do to get away permanently without risking my financial future

  • Melody

    My son left a vehicle on homeowner’s property for 2 yrs and the person who let him bring the car here promised to come get it and they dnt even own the car theirs no ownership for car so I sold it because home owner was.pissed everyday it being here wted it gone . Wht r our rights in this sinero

  • Shari Perfetto

    Ex-boyfriend has just up and left from my garage but his belongings are still there he won’t leave when I asked but now seems to have abandon do I still need to evict him? How long do they need to be gone to call it willingly left?

  • Lisa Grant

    I’m a New York City tenant who recently in 2017 claimed succession rights to my Mom’s apartment who died in 2016. My sister, bless her little old heart, refuses to remove her abandoned property from the apartment even though she moved out in 2013, and has been living in her own apartment for 6 years now.

    Can I as a NYC renter being that the lease is in my name, and my sister has never lived with me since 2013, and being that the apartment is now in my name since 2017 for two years due to my succession rights: simply just dispose of her abandoned property or donate it to charity?

  • Joseph

    I have a peice of Fame equipment that were left on my property never met the owner gave him the ok to park it there for about a month . It’s been over two years he never moved it nor use it plus I learn he has been deported can I trash it are sell it for crap to remove it off my property ?

  • Karen Coble

    Tenant passed away in Dec 2018. His wife left in Feb 2019.
    Motorcycle, 42″ snapper mower was left behind.
    What can I do with these after 6 months.
    She says she’ll move motorcycle but never has.

  • Adan Rosario

    I have a different kind of problem.
    Someone was gonna lose their things out of storage so I allowed them to put the stuff in my foyer. Now it’s been months and the property is still in my foyer . I want that property out of here how do I do it legally.

  • Griselda Barbosa

    I was living in our parents home for two years and I moved to Austin and left my belongings in the house. My brother moved someone in there without even letting me know as soon as I left. He told a police officer that my belongings would be stored under lock and key. All the furniture in the home, my clothes, my tools, my refrigerator, a LG washer a desk should be there. But he started ignoring my text messages and I am concerned that he sold my things because this is not the first time he does that. He is not my landlord and by word the house was his but the house is under my parents name. Please help me. Can he do this to me? He has a bachelors degree in criminal justice And is using his knowledge to get around the law.

  • Mark Mahoney

    I have tenants who left after lease was over in June and left a large storage trailer behind my rental house with furniture and items that were not used in the house. They also left fifteen – 5 gal buckets of chemicals in front of the trailer as well. I was ready to donate the items in the trailer and donate the trailer as well. The ex -tenant told me not to move the trailer as it was not his and was against the law for me to do so. I asked the tenant for the rightful owner of the storage trailer so I may return. He said several times he will move it but never happened. The town sent me a letter the trailer is illegal and remove it. I have no forwarding address for the tenant and they do not reply to my texts anymore. They vacated back in June. What court and papers do I file to move this trailer and what is in and around it? The 5 gal buckets could be harmful to my new tenant’s children in the next rental. I am showing the house to prospective new tenants next week. I told my tenant in the last unanswered text two weeks ago, I was going to file in court if all is not removed by this weekend. What court and papers do I file to move this trailer and what is in and around it?

  • Scott hyde

    I rented to basically two people one went to jail. Had a person in charge. He left well he gets the person mother that’s in jail. Both tenants are gone and 2 kids that were on the lease but one mother and one more kid. They broke the lease a month ago no renters insurance. I had it stipulated you altimatucaly are gone. I need some were to live I have a 3 year old and my baby mom are really tryn to be together I need them gone what can I do

  • Mark Strohecker

    I have a question to change subject real quick..My daughter rents and has had a house for 5 years and never late..She had to make arrangements on her electric and tild her 8f she doesn’t pay her bill on that date he was gonna evict her..I don’t feel he can but I paid it for her..Can he do this??

  • Mark Strohecker

    The guy who was a live in and paid rent I had to evict him cause he wasn’t doing what he was suppose to ..Be has been gone for almost a year now and has left his bed and expensive pool stick..Can’t I buy law sell or get rid of this stuff since now it should be.my posession??

  • Helen Flint

    An ex who wasn’t living with me left property of his at my home last July and hasn’t been back for it. We are no longer together he keeps saying he will remove it but hasn’t when can I sell it he owes me money

  • Brian

    I have been evicted from my apartment and I left my stuff in the apartment. I told my landlord that he could get rid of my stuff. He chose not to do it for months now. And I will be able to pay the back rent that I owe him. But now they want to make me pay rent from October until January when I will be able to make good on the back rent. They’re saying it’s because my stuff has been there. As I stated earlier I told them they could get rid of it. Is this legal?

    • Honzik

      As a property manager which has unfortunately had to evict tenants, I do not think it is legal. Each State may have it’s own laws regarding evictions.
      An eviction is often implemented when a tenant does not pay rent and/or disappears and they leave belongings in the unit.
      I’m not a professional in this matter, we hire an agent to handle the paperwork.
      However, from what I know, once the court passes the eviction then all property of the evicted tenant may be disposed of at the discretion of the landowner and the case is closed. The landowner may add the fees for removing of the belongings to the evicted tenant and it might show up on your credit report.
      But charging rent for leaving belongings behind sounds very suspicious.

  • Jody james

    So the items left after this 7 to 10 period and any person walking by can they take and item as if there were dumpster diving or will they get in trouble

  • Teresa Hillis

    I had Furnish everything bed,covers,smart TV anything she would need she moved in December 1st 2019 she has not paid rent for February also she has damage my new mattress with Cigarettes holes all over the mattresses and my Comforters pillows and pillow cases. C refuses to reply to my text messages about the rant or when she would come and get her things I’m just wondering what my options or can I legally throw her stuff out. Also before she made Dan the agreement was no drugs allowed and I fell her smokin marijuana in my house and on my back porch. Any advice please I live in Georgia..

  • Lynette craig

    My boyfriend went to jail for domestic violance i was wondering how long do I have to keep his belongings for before I can get rid of them

  • James A. Turpin

    hi, I am currently a home owner and i rented a small storage shed from a company on a rent to own deal. as a result of the pandemic, i was forced to let the storage go. i had received a couple calls with an ETA for pick up of the unit and they have yet to come pick it up. is that considered abandonment? its been well over a month, and if so what rights do i have? i feel like im being liable to store a storage that i can no longer use as storage for fear of being charged for it, but im storing their property for free. Please help me make sense of this. thank you kindly.

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