Almost every landlord faces the situation – how to do move out cleaning if tenants have left their belongings after eviction. After a tenant moves out or gets evicted from a rental, you discover they left some of their belongings behind. Can a landlord throw away tenants’ abandoned property? Even though some of the stuff looks like trash, you can’t throw them out because they are someone else’s property. As a landlord in this situation, what should you do?
This problem occurs reasonably often, and there is a proper procedure for dealing with it. The first thing to know is that it is your duty, as a landlord, to safeguard the tenant’s belongings. If they get damaged, you may become liable for a damages claim. That is why it is essential to follow your state rules for resolving such a situation.
The guidelines for handling tenants’ abandoned property vary by state, but the following procedures apply in most states.
Step one: Determine why the tenant left
A tenant can leave a rental for several reasons, and their reason for leaving influences what the law says about how you should treat their property.
- Lease ended or Termination notice: In this case, the tenant moved out by choice, and you have a lot of flexibility in how you dispose of the items.
- Evicted: The procedures for handling evicted tenants’ items are stricter and will usually involve your local law enforcement.
- Disappearance: Tenants who disappear usually don’t do so voluntarily, their belongings must be handled with care.
Step two: Inspect tenants’ abandoned property that is left behind
Before you hire a move out cleaning service, inspect the belongings to determine what is valuable and what is not.
- Trash: Get rid of the trash.
- Fixtures: If a tenant installs bookshelves, coat hooks or other fixtures in the apartment and does not remove them, those things become part of the rental unit.
- Motor Vehicles: Motor vehicles, including scooters, whether functional or inoperable are in an essential category of property. Your local law enforcement should handle them.
- Furniture and Other Personal Property: These are the type of stuff most commonly left behind by tenants. They should be dealt with, as explained below.
Step three: A fair chance to retrieve
Depending on your state, the laws will specify a holding period on all abandoned property. Keeping a tenant’s stuff for a given period offers them a chance to come back and retrieve them. Many states have a minimum number of days landlords must keep tenant’s belongings. And some states expect the items to remain on the property during that time.
Even if your state does not have these laws, keeping the things for 7 to 10 days is recommended. It will reduce the likelihood of your being sued for loss or damage of property. Within this period, if a tenant still wants their stuff, they should be able to come back and claim them.
Step four: Removal and storage
If the tenant does not return for their stuff, you may have to put them in storage to be able to perform move out cleaning. Below are the outlines of the steps:
Removing a tenant’s material:
- Dispose of items that are trash.
- Take pictures of all items left after discarding the trash.
- Please make a list of the items, with detailed descriptions, noting their condition. When doing this, do not open locked properties.
Storing the items:
Items may be stored on the property or in a storage unit away from your property. The tenant will bear the cost of storage, and you should inform them of this.
Notifying the tenant:
Give the tenant notice by letter and deliver it by hand or first-class mail to the tenant’s last known address, associated address, cosigner’s address, or emergency contact’s address. A return receipt to the address(es) should be kept on file. Things to include in the letter are:
- Where they can find their belongings
- How long they have to retrieve the items
- A list of the items and their estimated value
- All costs incurred during the removal of the items.
- The cost of storing the items
- The tenant’s responsibility to bear all costs
- What will happen if they fail to claim the items within the indicated time?
Step Five: Dispose or sell
If the tenant does not claim their belongings with the stated timeframe, you have a right to sell, donate or throw them away. Money from the sold items may be used to offset rent being owed by the tenant. You may also use it to settle the cost of storage. Before you sell a tenant’s belongings, consult the laws in your state to know what applies.
Step six: Protect yourself in the future
Dealing with tenants’ abandoned property is a lot of trouble. But you can spare yourself that hassle by including an abandoned property clause in the lease agreement. If tenants agree to waive their rights as outlined by the state laws, you would have relieved yourself of the burdens above.