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What to Do When a Tenant Leaves Their Stuff Behind

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Say you find yourself in a position where your tenant has left the property and find that they have left some of their belongings behind. You need to know that there is a procedure that needs to be followed to either return or dispose of their belongings.

You need to know what the laws in your state specify regarding such situations as well as any other legal obligations you might have. Only once you have familiarized yourself with these should you proceed further.

Gathering information

You might think it is a good idea to remove any of the belongings that your former tenant left behind. Before you do so, go through your documentation, your rental terms, and agreements and look up local and state laws related to property, landlords, and tenants’ rights.

Reason for the tenant’s departure

The first thing you should do is consider why your tenant left. Whether your former tenant still has rights to the abandoned belongings often depends on this reason.

  • If the lease period has expired, in most states, the landlord rights regarding tenant belongings suggest that you may dispose of them.
  • If you served your tenant with a lease termination notice and the tenant left within the given time, in most states, you have the right to dispose of the tenant’s belongings.
  • In the case where the tenant left without notice, the tenant might still have rights to their belongings.
  • When you evict your tenant, the process itself is usually conducted by local law enforcement. Their course of action is to remove tenants from the property and to determine which belongings you can sell to compensate for any unpaid rent or damage to the property.

State laws

Familiarize yourself with state law regarding renter abandoned possessions. There are differences in the details of the process from state to state so pay special attention to:

Manner of the tenant abandoning the property – Was the lease terminated? Was the tenant evicted or did they disappear without notice? Did the tenant leave in accordance with a prior arrangement?

Storage location limitation – Some states do not allow for tenant property to be stored outside state borders.

Time limitation – Many states have a clearly defined timeframe that landlords must wait before they send a notice to renters to regather their belongings or dispose of the items.

Create an Inventory

You need to document any relevant information about the abandoned possessions. It is a good idea to have an objective observer that can serve as a witness when creating an inventory of your former tenant’s belongings. By bringing an objective observer with you, you are protecting yourself from any fraudulent charges that could be brought against you. They should be willing to sign the inventory of objects left behind as a witness.

Check the attic and other less used areas

When creating an inventory, you must check all the areas in your property. This includes the attic and other less frequently used areas. Keep in mind that listing every item left behind is important. That way, your former tenant could not claim that you created an incomplete inventory. If you are preparing the property for a new tenant, once you have checked the attic, you should clean it and remove unnecessary items.

Document everything

Document every item, take pictures and videos. Photographic and video evidence can come in handy, particularly if the state of the belongings is brought into question. Try to document and record as many details as you can. If some of the items are locked, you shouldn’t open them before a final decision is made about the belongings.

Notice

In many states, you need to send a legal notice to your former tenant in which you inform them about the possessions that they left behind and the timeframe they have to collect their items. These notices have to contain all the relevant information about the items left behind and where they can be collected.

Notice should include:

  • Name of the belongings and their description.
  • Estimations of the value of their possessions.
  • The location of the items.
  • The time limit set by the state and local law by which the former renter needs to retrieve their belongings.
  • If the possessions are not retrieved by the set time limit, you should explain what further steps will be taken.
  • Request an acknowledgment of receipt.

Make sure items are not damaged by storing them properly

Most states do not require that you keep the possessions left behind on the property itself. Seeing as you might be preparing your property for a new tenant, there is a big chance that you will need to remove the items from the property.  You are free to keep them in a storage facility until you figure out what to do with them. This is often the best idea until you know whether the tenant will reclaim their items or not. Keep in mind that the costs of storage and transport to the storage unit should be covered by the tenant.

Tenant wants to claim their belongings

Once you have sent out a notice to your former tenant and they received it, they may decide to reclaim their possessions. In case that your former tenant wants to reclaim their property in the time limit given in the notice, you need to make sure that their belongings are accessible to them. Make sure that you have the costs of storage and removal of their items at hand. These are costs that the tenant should cover before reclaiming their possessions. Alternatively, they can be taken out of the tenant’s security deposit.

Tenant is claiming that they didn't receive your notice

Several things can help you handle disputes with tenants. If you have included a request for acknowledgment of receipt in your notice and the tenant shows up after the time limit to reclaim his belongings, you could use the receipt as proof if need be. Your former tenant could claim that they did not receive your notice so having a return receipt can save you a lot of trouble.

The tenant does not wish to claim their belongings

In some cases, tenants intentionally leave some of their possessions behind. If your former tenant does not wish to reclaim their property, you need to check local and state regulations to see whether you can sell, donate, or keep the items in question.

Follow the rules

Following all the necessary rules is crucial if you wish to avoid loss of income when a tenant moves out. It can be a real hassle when a tenant leaves their stuff behind. Each of the different tasks is demanding in its own way. From creating an inventory to communicating with your former tenant, storing the items, and finally returning or disposing of them. While all this might seems like a tiring and demanding process, make sure to follow all of the rules and every step as defined by local and state laws. It is the only way to avoid the even more daunting and costly procedures that follow if you fail to do so.