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What are Landlord’s Responsibilities for Abandoned Tenant Possessions?

Abandoned Tenant Possessions
Whether a tenant vacates from eviction, sudden lease break, or gives ample notice, there is a chance items may remain. When abandoned property remains, many landlords want to remove it as soon as possible. However, in some states, tossing it out can landowners in hot water. To avoid costly liability, understanding what to do with abandoned tenant possessions is vital. So, join us below as we look at a landlord’s responsibility, steps to take, and how to dispose of belongings properly.

What Did the Tenant Leave Behind?

Surprisingly, why the tenant left matters to how landlords can deal with abandoned tenant possessions; landlords will need to research local and state laws to ensure compliance. As you read through these laws, be on the lookout for different requirements based on the reason for a tenant’s departure. Let’s take a look at a few circumstances.
  • Tenants Vacate at the end of Lease with Proper Notice – When a tenant decides to move, your lease should require them to give a certain amount of notice. Therefore, when tenants give proper notice, states allow added flexibility for handling abandoned tenant possessions.
  • The Tenant Breaks Lease and DisappearsTypically, property left behind in this situation requires different treatment than if a tenant left with notice. Therefore, states may require landlords to store items for a period of time. Also, landlords will need to make a reasonable effort to reach the tenant.
  • A Tenant Receives a Termination Letter – Most states also provide landlords maximum flexibility in these situations. Common reasons that lead to tenants receiving a termination later are nonpayment of rent or lease violations.
  • Tenants are Forcibly Evicted – If a tenant refuses to vacate after a court order, a sheriff will carry out a forcible eviction. In this situation, a tenant must have their items out before landlords change the locks. States vary in their requirements of landlords after an eviction has taken place. Some require storing abandoned tenant possessions for a certain amount of time, while others are more lenient.

What Does a Landlord Need to do with Abandoned Tenant Possessions?

Landlords are responsible for protecting themselves from liability when handling abandoned tenant possessions. Certain landlords must take steps to avoid damage and give tenants a chance to reclaim items left behind. Therefore, with state requirements in mind, follow along with the steps below.
  1. Create a List – The first step is to itemize any items left behind. Additionally, take photographic evidence to document each item’s condition. Doing so can help landlords prevent potential disputes or claims that they damaged a tenant’s property.
  2. Store Abandoned Property – Many states require safe storage of a tenant’s property, although the time frame varies.  Landlords may choose to use any secure place, even their own garage. However, a dedicated storage rental facility is the best choice.
  3. Send Notice to the Tenant – After documenting the property left behind, you must make a reasonable effort to contact the tenants. So, draft a notice to all parties and deliver either in person or by certified mail with return receipt.

Notice to Tenants Should Include

  • An itemized and descriptive list of possessions left behind
  • The deadline to collect belongings from storage. State law varies, providing tenants anywhere from 5 to 45 days. In Pennsylvania, for example, a tenant has 10 days from the postmark date of the notice to either retrieve the items or request additional storage for a maximum of 30 days.
  • The location where the property is safely stored
  • Any charges related to storing the tenant’s belongings
  • Steps the landlord will take to dispose of the property if not claimed in the allotted timeframe

Are There Any Exceptions to Landlord Storage Requirements?

Yes, but only with certain items. For example, landlords can immediately discard any abandoned food items. Additionally, if pets remain, notify local animal control as soon as possible to ensure the animal receives proper care.
 
Another exception is fixtures installed by the tenant. So, when a tenant installs a shelf, light, or fixture, it becomes a part of the rental unit. Therefore, landlords who do not want the installed feature have the right to remove it and charge tenants for the damages.
 
More complex abandoned items such as vehicles may require additional state requirements. Always check your local guidelines before proceeding with the disposal of any personal items.
Landlord’s Responsibility When the Tenant Claims Abandoned Property

Landlord’s Responsibility When the Tenant Claims Abandoned Property

After sending the notice to the tenants, you may receive a response. Therefore, if the tenant wishes to claim their abandoned possessions, landlords must act. Owners must do the following:
  1. Schedule Mutually Amicable Time – If the tenant responds within the legally allotted timeframe, schedule to meet them. This should be a mutually agreed upon time, and landlords should make a reasonable effort to accommodate the tenant.
  2. Make Belongings Available – At the agreed-upon time, be present to hand over possessions to the tenant. Go through the itemized list and account for each item. To prevent any future disputes, have both yourself and the tenant sign off that items were handed over along with the date.
  3. Settle Any Charges In many cases, a landlord can charge the storage fees back to the tenant. Landlords will want to review local laws regarding any restrictions. However, this is common practice as long as the fees are reasonable and documented.

Landlord’s Responsibility When the Tenant Does Not Claim Abandoned Property

There are times where a tenant does not respond or has no interest in retrieving the property. So, the owner must deal with the abandoned tenant possessions. May states allow owners to sell the belongings either through a private or public sale. From there, landlords can disburse monies collected to either the tenant or the county minus. Typically, landlords can deduct any charges related to the removal and storage of the items.
 
If the property left behind is not sellable or worth below a designated amount, landlords can discard the items. Rules may vary by state.

How to Avoid Issues with Abandoned Tenant Possessions?

Like many issues landlords face, avoiding abandoned property starts with a rock-solid lease and screening. After all, landlords have enough on their plate scheduling turnover repairs and marketing for new tenants. Although not every situation is predictable, landlords can take steps to avoid dealing with property left behind. Check out these suggestions below:
How to Avoid Issues with Abandoned Tenant Possessions?

A Thorough Screening Process

The best way to avoid many potentially draining situations for landlords is proper tenant screening. Typically, this process involves income verification, credit checks, and background screening. However, property owners should require previous landlord references. Do not overlook this step and take the time to call or reach out to those references.
 
These conversations can shed light on the condition an individual left their previous home in. If the landlord expresses concern, do not let history repeat itself in your rental!
 
Pro Tip: Need more information on tenant screening tips for landlords? Check out our blog.

Comprehensive and Legally Binding Lease

A great lease is worth its weight in gold to a landlord. It lays out the expectation for the care and use of your rental property. Additionally, it outlines that you expect tenants to return the property in the same condition they found it. This includes removing any personal belongings or furniture from the unit.
 
Review lease clauses with your tenant during the signing of the contract. Also, ensure they are aware of what steps will occur if they leave anything behind. Outlining this process clearly helps protect landlords against potential disputes down the road.
 
Pro Tip: Need more information on writing a thorough and legally binding lease? Check out our blog.
 

Final Thoughts

Whether a tenant vacates due to eviction, suddenly breaking a lease, or gives ample notice, landlords may have to deal with abandoned tenant possessions. When that happens, the steps you take must follow your state landlord-tenant law. Do you need a better screening process or a more comprehensive lease? Are you tired of handling tenant issues? Professional property management is the answer you are looking for.
 
Bay Property Management Group offers owners peace of mind at every level, from leasing to screening, inspections, and maintenance coordination and we provide property management services throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC, and Northern Virginia. Our dedicated staff works with your tenants to address any issues before they escalate. Also, we are prepared to enforce our legally binding lease contract. For more information on how Bay Property Management Group Bucks County can assist you, give us a call today!