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Handling a Tenant's Belongings After They've Left the Rental Unit

There comes a point in almost every landlord's life when he or she will have to deal with furnishings or other items tenants leave behind after moving out of their rental units. While it can be annoying, time consuming, and costly to attend to a tenant's leftover belongings, the law is generally clear about a landlord's responsibility in this area. Here are a few tips for handling a tenant's belongings after they've left the unit.

First Make Sure the Property is Abandoned

Just because the property was left behind doesn't automatically mean the tenant abandoned the items. This is particularly true if the person simply left the home or apartment with no notice and you were not in the process of evicting the individual. Before you do anything else, it's important you determine whether or not the property is, in fact, unwanted.

If you're unable to reach the tenant via the contact information you have on file for the person, call friends or family members the individual may have listed as emergency contacts. These people can relay messages to the tenant or tell you if something happened to the person (e.g. the tenant was injured or arrested) that would account for why the individual hasn't been to the rental unit in awhile.

Other clues can also help you determine if the property was abandoned:

  • Was the person late on rent payments or about to be evicted?
  • Do the neighbors have any information about the tenant? For instance, did they see a moving truck or did the tenant mention he or she was leaving?
  • Does the stuff left behind have any value? Is it old and broken?
  • Was there a change of address submitted to the post office or were the gas and electric turned off?

If answering these questions give you the overall impression the person is truly gone and isn't likely to come back for the items, then you can proceed to empty out the apartment according to the laws in your state. In general, this means you must notify the tenants in writing about what you intend to do with the items and store them for a period of time before completely disposing of the possessions.

Take Pictures

Before actually removing the items from the rental unit, take pictures of the property to document what was actually left behind and the condition you found the items in. This can protect you from claims of missing or damaged possessions. You can also send the tenant pictures of the abandoned property to help the individual determine if he or she wants to retrieve the items or let you dispose of them.

Place in Secure Storage

You don't have to leave the abandoned items in the rental unit. However, you must store them in a secure area where they won't get stolen or damaged. Failure to do this can cause you to become liable for replacing the items. If you don't have space on your property, then renting a storage unit at a local facility is an excellent alternative. In many states, you can charge the tenant storage fees for the time you held onto the items and require the person to pay what's owed before releasing the property to the individual.

In some cases, you can use this as leverage to get back rent paid off. For instance, you can offer to waive the storage fees if the person pays any outstanding rent.

Recoup Your Losses

If the tenant doesn't respond to your notices or indicates he or she doesn't want the property, you can recoup your losses by selling items that have value. Use free or low-cost services, such as online classified ad or auction sites, to unload the property. You can also have one big garage sale of all the items abandoned by tenants over the year. Although you may not get all your money back, it is a good way to mitigate your losses.

For more information about handling abandoned belongings, contact an attorney. If you need space to store leftover items, connect with a storage facility in your area. It may be helpful to investigate websites of local storage facilities, such as, for more information on their units.