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What Should a Landlord Do with Abandoned Tenant Property?


Whether a tenant moves of their own accord or faced legal eviction, sometimes possessions remain in the home. When this occurs, landlords face a dilemma – what to do with abandoned tenant property? In many cases, tenants simply leave behind trash that landlords are free to dispose of. However, personal items or other property is a different story. Thankfully, most states clearly define the steps and requirements landlords must follow regarding property left behind. That said, when new tenants are waiting to move in, time is of the essence. Join us below as we examine the abandoned tenant property process for Virginia rental owners.

The Basics of Abandoned Tenant Property

Failing to abide by abandoned tenant property laws could lead to landlords facing fines, penalties, or litigation. Therefore, a thorough understanding of what constitutes abandoned possessions and how to handle them is critical. So, let’s start with the basics!

Is the Property Really Abandoned?

It should go without saying, but to understand what law applies, landlords must determine that the possessions are, in fact, abandoned. Under Virginia law, a rental owner can treat tenant property as abandoned once the lease has been terminated and the landlord regains possession of the home. However, if the situation is not so straightforward, landlords must follow additional steps to determine if the unit is truly abandoned or there is another explanation, such as the tenant is traveling or perhaps suffered a health crisis. We will discuss these steps in further detail a little later on.

Is the Property Really Abandoned?

Does the Reason for Leaving Matter?

The circumstances surrounding the tenant’s departure can often affect how landlords must handle abandoned tenant property. That said, these laws will vary from state to state, so landlords must do their research. In Virginia, some of these circumstances could include the following –

  • Disappearing Act – Depending on the state or local ordinance, the property of a tenant who disappears requires special attention. Often, landlords must follow additional procedures than if the landlord were to receive proper notice of the tenant’s intent to vacate.
  • Proper Notice – Ideally, a tenant will decide to vacate and provide ample notice to the landlord per the lease terms. When that occurs, and they leave belongings behind, many states allow landlords maximum flexibility to dispose of abandoned tenant property.
  • Landlord Termination – In the case of landlords terminating the lease, states also offer significant flexibility for disposing of property in this situation.
  • Eviction – If the tenant is legally evicted yet personal property remains, states may require landlords to take added steps to protect the belongings. In addition, this may include storing the items for a period of time and arranging for the tenant to collect them.

Types of Abandoned Belongings

The actual items left behind will dictate how a landlord can dispose of the items and when. This will determine if the rental owner can throw them out immediately and get on with the turnover process or if they need to take additional steps. Some examples include –

  • Throw Out Immediately – Landlords can immediately dispose of obvious trash such as leftover food containers, cleaning materials, and broken furniture. That said, always thoroughly document the condition of items left behind before disposing of them.
  • Requires Further Attention – More personal items that hold sentimental, medical, or monetary value require added effort from the landlord. These items may include family photos, medication bottles, or furniture.

Steps for Handling Abandoned Tenant Property in Virginia

When tenants leave belongings behind, it can be a hassle for landlords and delay the turnover process if not handled efficiently. In addition, not following all abandoned tenant property laws could mean landlords face fines and disputes with tenants. So, to avoid these costly situations, follow the steps below when belongings are left behind.

Document the Items Left BehindDocument the Items Left Behind

Step one in dealing with abandoned tenant property is to thoroughly document the condition of the unit and create an inventory of items left behind. It is important to take clear photographs of any items and assemble a detailed list. If you come across an unopened container such as a storage bin with many items, do not open it. Instead, document it as an unopened container. Although this inventory takes time, it can help avoid potential disputes with tenants over property later on.

Notify the Tenant

After completing a move-out inspection and detailed inventory, landlords must make an effort to reach the tenant. In addition, the law requires a rental owner to send a written notice to the tenant. In some cases, the unit may appear abandoned because the tenant is traveling, for example.

So, send notice that states the tenant has 7 days to inform the landlord in writing of their intent to stay in the unit. Also, let the tenant know that the items left behind will be disposed of if they do not respond. If no response comes, the rental owner can assume the unit is abandoned.

When writing a notice to the resident regarding abandoned tenant property, be sure to include –

  • State that the landlord considers the unit abandoned, and the tenant must remove any personal belongings by the end of the notice period.
  • Let the tenant know where and when to claim the abandoned property
  • Include a statement that if the tenant does not claim the property in the timeframe provided, the rental owner will either sell it or dispose of it.

If the landlord issues a termination notice, the notice period is not the standard 7 days. Instead, written notice must include that any abandoned tenant property will be disposed of within 24 hours. That said, the unit owner must provide reasonable access to retrieve property during that 24-hour period.

Provide Access to Collect BelongingsProvide Access to Collect Belongings

If the tenant responds to the notice and wants to pick up their belongings, landlords must allow this. This involves landlords doing the following –

  1. Schedule Mutually Agreed Upon Time – If the tenant responds within the legally allotted timeframe, schedule a time with them to hand over abandoned tenant property. While personal schedules differ, landlords should make reasonable efforts to accommodate a tenant.
  2. Make the Property Available – At the agreed time, meet with the tenant and review the itemized property list. Also, have the tenant account for each item, and to prevent any disputes, both parties should sign off on the return of all items on that date.
  3. Settle Any Outstanding Storage Charges – In some states, landlords must arrange storage for abandoned tenant property. However, landlords have the right to recoup any storage fees as long as they are reasonable and documented with receipts.

How Can Landlords Dispose of Abandoned Tenant Property?

When a tenant does not respond or come forward to claim their belongings, it is up to the landlord to dispose of the items. This means landlords can sell or simply throw away anything left behind after the notice period expires.

If a landlord decides to items, they can use proceeds similar to a security deposit to cover damages, unpaid rent, or other outstanding charges. In addition, these proceeds can also help cover the cost of disposing of or storing the property.

How Can Landlords Dispose of Abandoned Tenant Property?

Before disposing of any property or embarking on this process altogether, be sure to check the terms of the lease. The lease agreement should address abandoned tenant property, and in Virginia, the lease cannot shorten the notice period allowed by law. That said, the rental agreement may have longer notice periods or provisions. So, for example, if the law says to provide a 7-day notice, but the lease promises 15 days, landlords must abide by the lease.

How to Efficiently Handle Suspected Abandoned Property

Unfortunately for landlords, dealing with abandoned tenant property is a situation that happens all too often. Therefore, a firm understanding of the law is essential, and these laws vary by location. To limit liability and disputes, leaning on the advice of trusted industry professionals is a great idea.

At Bay Property Management Group, our experienced staff understands the importance of a quick turnover process. Unfortunately, abandoned tenant property can hold up that process and cost owners even more money through extended vacancies. Therefore, leaving this to the experts ensures efficiency, so your property hits the market as soon as possible. However, that is not where the benefits of professional rental management end. In fact, property managers handle various tasks, including assistance with legal matters, rent collection, maintenance, screening, and marketing. So, if you would like to hear more about how Bay Property Management Group can help maximize your investment, give us a call today.