Can Landlords Dispose of Abandoned Property?

If your tenant moves out and leaves items behind, state and local laws govern what you can do with the abandoned property.

So, before you sell your prior tenant's television, it's important to learn about your legal obligations.

 

Lost vs. Abandoned Property

Before making any plans, make sure that your tenant has abandoned -- not lost -- a piece of property.

If you find a ring in a medicine cabinet, for example, it's possible that the item was misplaced and not abandoned.

In this case, you have an obligation to attempt to contact the previous tenants so the ring can be returned.

If the tenants cannot be found, but it is likely that the item was lost, the landlord may have to relinquish the item to the local police or sheriff.

However, if it's likely that the property was abandoned, the owner will be able to keep, sell, or dispose of any items according to state law.

Notification Requirements

Most states require that you notify the tenant that he or she has abandoned items on your property.

Unless state statutes specify otherwise, a certified letter is often the best way to complete this step.

The letter should list the items that were abandoned, as well as tell the former tenant how to claim them and the time period in which he has to do so.

Waiting Periods and Storage Requirements

States with notification requirements will also specify how long you must wait before disposing of any items.

These time periods can vary widely.

Delaware state statutes require a seven-day waiting period to allow tenants to claim abandoned property after an eviction, while Vermont requires that a landlord wait 60 days.

Most states will also allow you to charge a reasonable storage fee that the tenant must pay before his or her items are returned.

Some states will also allow you to charge a removal fee.

If you intend to charge these fees, you should specify the amount in the notification letter you send.

Abandoned Property Disposal

Even after the waiting period has passed, state laws will specify what you can do with abandoned property.

Some states will allow you to sell, destroy, or keep any items.

Other states require that landlords hold a public sale for any items that exceed a certain monetary value.

Some states -- including California, Florida, Connecticut, and Wisconsin -- specify that any profits from abandoned property sales must be remitted to the state or town government.

State law may also allow the tenant to claim any proceeds from the sale of his or her property, as long as the claim is made within a certain time frame.

Other states require a public sale, but will allow you to keep the proceeds after a waiting period.

If your prior tenant still owes you money, the state statute may allow you to deduct the amount owed from the proceeds of any property sales.

Hawaii, Kansas, and Maine all allow landlords to deduct back rent from an abandoned property auction's profits.

Researching State and Local Laws

Before removing any possessions from a rental, you must research your state and local laws thoroughly.

Most state websites have the applicable statutes published online.

If you don't follow your state's laws, your tenant could sue you for damages.

When researching laws, be sure to follow the correct guidelines.

Statutes may distinguish between property abandoned during an eviction versus property that was left after a tenant voluntarily moved out.

Residential and commercial rental property may also be governed by different laws.

Some cities have local laws that supersede state law.

To avoid any problems, landlords should document their actions carefully and keep any pertinent records.

This documentation should include a copy of the notification letter and receipts for any costs associated with selling and/or storing the abandoned property.

Posted on Nov 14, 2014

Related

Most Important Landlord Tenant Laws in Texas

When it comes to having a tenant for the first time, it can be pretty daunting because you are going to be the corresponding landlord and a new relationship will emerge, which will need time to grow... More


The Landlord Tenant Board: What it is and When it is Needed

Many times, there are issues between a landlord and a tenant that need to be resolved but are failed to do so, because both parties have gone too far with their actions, and have retaliated in the... More


The Landlord Tenant Laws in California

The landlord and tenant laws in California are literally the same as they are in any other state. These laws, rules and regulations are put into practice because they uphold an order, a discipline,... More


Understanding the Landlord Tenant Laws in Illinois

People are aware that there are different rulings in each state with reference to the landlord/tenant laws. The state of Illinois also has a set of laws. These rules and regulations are basically... More


How to Create a Residential Lease Agreement

Where there is a landlord, there will also be a tenant, and it is no surprise that these two parties can only work together once there is some sort of agreement, contract or a binding deal in place.... More


The Best Sites for Rental and Lease Agreement Templates

Many landlords find it difficult to write and draft a lease agreement. Since every State has its own general template, it can also be difficult to make sure your lease agreement meets all the criteria... More


The Landlord Tenant Act: What Landlords Need to Know

All landlords know that before they can formally become a landlord there are a lot of things they need to understand. Landlords and tenants cannot act as such without any legal bodies involved. That... More


Landlord Obligations: The Responsibilities of a Landlord

Becoming a landlord is a major deal and no one can simply get up and think, “well, yes I think I should be a landlord and rent out my flat.” If you are thinking that you would like to be a landlord,... More


The Best Landlord Associations for Landlords to Join

If you’re a landlord and want to manage your business in a better way, you should endeavor to get in touch with those industry experts who have the experience and the skills to help you do it. This is... More


The Best Landlord Forums

Landlords and aspiring landlords, do not become as such, without guidance and advice. There is a lot that goes into being a landlord nowadays; in fact, there is so much to learn that it often confuses... More