While landlords expect to clean every unit before renting it to someone else, it can surprise them when tenants leave personal property behind. It complicates matters even more when each state has its own laws regarding what to do with abandoned property by tenants.

Definition of Tenant Property

Tenant property describes any personal property owned by a previous tenant that he or she brought into the rental unit and left there upon vacating. Common examples include clothing, electronics, furniture, and non-working vehicles. Although laws state that tenants must remove all personal property when they vacate, some decide to leave unwanted items behind instead.

Ensure the Property Has Been Abandoned Before Taking Any Action

It’s easy for a landlord to assume that a tenant has moved out when he or she hasn’t seen that person in days or weeks. While rental property owners understandably want to turn over the apartment and get rid of a problem tenant, they must ensure the tenant has truly abandoned the property before doing so. That requires investigation of the following:

  • Is the tenant current or behind on rent? Even when no one has seen the tenant recently, several states don’t allow property owners to consider a rental unit abandoned if the tenant is current on rent.
  • Do the tenant’s emergency contacts have any insight regarding his or her whereabouts?
  • Did the tenant complete an official change of address request? A post office employee can confirm this information since it’s a matter of public record.
  • Have the neighbors noticed a moving truck or has the tenant told other people living in the rental unit that he or she intends to move?
  • Has the tenant arranged utility shut-off? If yes, keep in mind this could also be due to non-payment.
  • Did the tenant leave valuable items in the apartment such as furniture or electronics? The more valuable the items, the less likely it is the tenant has voluntarily abandoned the unit.

Follow Guidelines Depending on Why the Tenant Left

Landlords and property owners have the most flexibility on what to do with abandoned property when the tenant gave proper notice before moving out or they had to serve a termination notice. This differs from an eviction notice, which requires landlords and property owners to follow much more stringent rules regarding tenant property. Eviction often requires the involvement of local law enforcement both to get the tenant to leave and handling personal property left behind at the property.

If the person disappeared without warning, the law requires property owners to store their belongings for a specified time. They also can’t withhold the personal property if the person reappears and still owes rent.

The apartment cleaning team has the legal right to throw away garbage and claim any fixtures the tenant attached to a wall such as a bookshelf. Property owners must legally store furniture and other personal property for a minimum amount of time before selling or junking it. Since abandoned vehicles fall under their own category, it’s best to contact local law enforcement about them right away.

The best resource for any property owner or landlord is to have a thorough understanding of state laws and follow them to the letter if this situation should arise.