Ask Lucas 015: Handling Abandoned Personal Property and a 25-year-old Desk
Sue has a tenant who is leaving behind a 25-year-old desk. What does she need to do in order to prepare the unit for the next tenant, while complying with laws on abandoned person property in California?
Lucas: Hey, what’s up everyone, this is Lucas Hall from Landlordology & Cozy. Welcome to the 15th episode of Ask Lucas. It’s a bite size Q&A show where I answer your questions about landlording and property management. Just leave a recorded question on landlordology.com/ask-lucas and I’ll answer it in this podcast.
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Sue: Hello Lucas, my name is Sue. I have a rental property in California that is a small Victorian house divided up into rooms. There are four tenants. Each rent a room for counseling. One is moving out and moving down into another office. The tenant has asked me to remove the desk when she moves or she’s going to leave it there.
I do not know anything about the desk. As far as I know, she’s been using the desk for 25 years. The former owners may have given it to her or left it there for her to use. What I would like to know is is it my responsibility to remove that desk if the following tenant does not want it or should the tenant that’s leaving that room, that office, are not renting anymore remove that desk? Thank you for your help.
Lucas: Hi Sue. Thanks for your question and it’s really great to meet you. If I understand you correctly, you have one tenant moving into in to another one of your units, but the person who’s moving out has a desk and that desk has been there for 25 years and you’re not really sure what to do with it or even if you have to do anything with it.
Let me tell you my opinion. Generally speaking, a landlord is responsible for prepping the unit when a new tenant moves in. I can understand why the new tenant would want that desk to be gone. However, you now have to figure out whose desk it is. If it came as part of a furnished unit with the previous tenant from 25 years ago, then you need to treat it like our furnished unit and that desk I guess is yours as the owner of the property.
Once we kind of established that the desk actually belongs to you, then it’s your responsibility to get rid of it if the new tenant doesn’t want it. You don’t have to sell it. You don’t have to trash it. You could store it somewhere or even put it in a different unit. Perhaps, if I’m wearing your shoes, I would actually contact all the other business owners in my building and see if anybody else wanted it. Maybe I could provide them with the desk so that it wasn’t that expensive for me to take care of.
However, if in fact it is the previous tenant’s desk and they’re trying to pawn it off on you, then you have to follow the laws on abandoned personality property in California which are actually quite lengthy, so I’m not going to read them to you here, but basically, you can go read them in California Civil Code 1965 as well as 1980 through 1991. You can find those linked on landlordology.com/state-laws and then click on California.
You can handle that abandoned personal property multiple ways and one of which is to notify the tenant and let them know that you’re going to trash it or store it or sell it. They have a chance to argue with. However, if they have already said that they don’t want it but they’re not willing to get rid of it, then you can typically skip the notice period as long as you have something in writing already and then get rid of it. Usually at their own expense. If you have a security deposit from them, you can use part of that to cover your damages to dispose of it or sell it or whatever.
I hope that helps Sue. Good luck with it and hopefully you’ll be able to get rid of the dust pretty easily. I know that I, in the past, when I’ve had to deal with abandoned personal property and it was okay for me to sell it or get rid of it, I usually just find some junk mover or even an antique dealer sometimes who will come and take our way because they can sell it.
Don’t hesitate to go ahead and take some pictures if you have time and throw it up on Craigslist. Seriously, Craigslist sometimes is the best way to get rid of even nice stuff because people will come with trucks and take it away and you may even make a couple hundred or even a few thousand dollars if it’s a really nice desk.
I’m not a lawyer. Please don’t take this as legal advice, but use the links to the statutes that are on landlordology.com to do a little more research, because I know that you have some required language that you must put in the notices that you give out. I think that’s in Civil Code 1984. Check that out and good luck to you. Thanks for the question. Bye.