All states have laws that govern the rights of landlords and tenants, but they aren't all the same. A landlord who finds abandoned property in a rental unit must follow the rules of the state to figure out what can legally be done with the property. Understanding these laws is also helpful for tenants. In some cases, they may not be able to get the property back if they later change their mind.
Landlords Must Usually Notify the Tenant
In many states, a landlord must retain a tenant's abandoned property, at least for a while. Landlords must make an attempt to provide a former tenant with some notice before disposing of the property. Some states require that the landlord mail a letter to the tenant, other states require that the letter be hand-delivered, and some states even allow for the notice to be published in a local newspaper.
A Tenant's Property Must Be Stored
The amount of time a tenant is given to respond to the notice also varies in each state, but it's usually two to three weeks. During this time, the landlord must keep the property in the unit or move it and put it in storage, even if it's at the landlord's own expense.
A Landlord Can Sell Unclaimed Property
Because it usually costs landlords money to hire someone to move the property and to rent a storage unit, most states allow them to reimburse themselves for those expenses by selling the abandoned property. This can happen only if the tenant doesn't respond to the notice within a certain amount of time. Any money that remains after paying these costs, however, must be given to the tenant.
Property with Little Value May Be Thrown Away
If a former tenant abandons property of little or no value, the former landlord can usually throw away anything that would cost more to move and store than the property is worth.
In some states the landlord has discretion to pick out which property can be thrown away. Other states allow it only if the value is below a threshold amount. This can create problems for tenants, since some of their personal property may have sentimental value, but no monetary value.
A Real Estate Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding landlord and tenant law is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a real estate or a landlord/tenant lawyer.