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What to Do When a Tenant Leaves Belongings Behind in Your Property

Once again, a tenant has left your property, and now it’s time to go through the process of finding new tenants all over again. You’ve been through this before though, so it’s not a big deal.

But what happens when you inspect the residence and find that your former tenant left personal items at the property?

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This can be a tricky situation for landlords, especially if you want to move forward with the usual steps of finding new occupants. Thankfully, Maryland laws on the issue are clear, and the steps you must take are fairly straightforward. Keep reading to learn what you should do as a Maryland landlord if your tenant leaves their belongings behind in your rental property.

How Landlords Should Handle Tenant Belongings Left in a Property

Maryland Abandoned Property Law

When dealing with your tenants and your rental properties, you always want to be sure you’re following the law in your leasing policies. That way, you never have to deal with costly setbacks.

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According to the Code of Maryland’s legal statutes, a property manager in Anne Arundel County needs to know this passage by heart (or at least have it posted in their office for reference):

“A lease may not contain any provision authorizing the landlord to take possession of the leased premises or the tenant’s personal property unless the lease has been terminated and the tenant has abandoned the personal property.”  (Maryland Real Property Code, 8-208)d)(6)).

And that’s it! So, while landlords from other states have lengthy paragraphs of legal jargon to sift through to identify what they should do in such a situation, all Maryland landlords have to remember is that if the lease has been terminated and the tenant has not returned to retrieve their items, you may take possession of them.

However, you may not feel particularly excited about the notion of cleaning out your rental property of a tenant’s possessions and figuring out what to do with them afterward. Don’t worry – there may still be some ways of getting them back to the original tenants.

Steps to Follow With Abandoned Possessions

While the legal outline for when you can and cannot claim a tenant’s possessions is pretty straightforward, you still want to follow some additional guidelines to protect yourself from claims by the tenant who has moved out. That’s because tenant claims could allege that you or someone else unlawfully destroyed or even stole their possessions.

If you want to do as much as possible to get the former tenant’s possessions back in their hands, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Take inventory of everything your former tenant left behind. If there are containers with numerous items inside them, do not open the containers. Instead, just list the unopened container.
  2. Write a notice to the former tenant or any other person you believe may be the owner of some (or all) of the abandoned belongings.
    1. In the notice, provide enough information so that the possible owner can identify it.
    2. Tell the tenant or possible owner the place and time where their property can be claimed.
    3. Give the tenant or other possible owner a deadline after which time the property cannot be claimed.
    4. Tell the tenant or possible owner what your intentions are regarding the property left behind if it is not claimed by the deadline.
  3. Meet with the tenant or other possible owner and give them the opportunity to remove the items themselves or pay for storage costs.

If you’ve followed all of these guidelines and the tenant or other owner seems to be intent on abandoning the items, you’ll be forced to decide what to do with them. Here are a few of your options:

  • Sell the items at local auction (in some states, if the total estimated value is above $300, this is required), an online store, or a resale shop.
  • Donate the items to a local shelter or thrift store like the New to You Consignment Shop in Annapolis.
  • Throw the items away, or – if the items are of considerable size – have them hauled way and placed in a local recycling dump, like Maryland Recycle Co Inc. in Glen Burnie.

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While these guidelines aren’t laid out in Maryland law, they’re good practices if you want to avoid your standing as an excellent landlord being tarnished. After all, if word got out in Anne Arundel County that you were a merciless landlord who destroyed or sold people’s personal possessions as soon as they’d terminated their lease with you, your business could suffer!

Exceptions to Abandoned Property Laws

Sometimes, the items left behind by your previous tenants don’t fall under state rules. For instance, if the property is strewn with obvious garbage, there’s no reason to go through all the procedures of notifying your tenant. Just throw it away!

But there are some other exceptions, including:

Fixtures. If there were no provisions in the lease or personal contracts between you and the tenant, anything installed by the tenant is simply counted as part of the premises. This can include bookshelves or light fixtures that are built-into the property itself as permanent additions. These belong to you as the landlord, so you don’t need to take any further steps trying to return them.

Motor vehicles. Sometimes, tenants will leave inoperable automobiles in the parking lot or garage. These fall under a special category of personal property to which state rules don’t apply. You may notify the tenant and ask them to remove it if you’d like, but all you are required to do is call the local police (you’ll need to give them the vehicle’s license plate number, make, and model, and indicate where it’s located). Afterward, it will be towed. If the tenant wants it, they can retrieve it from impoundment.

Abandoned property is definitely one of the more common scenarios Maryland landlords face in their line of work, so it’s important that you understand how to handle the situation properly and what options you have for removing the items.

Of course, one of the best things you can do to prevent abandoned property issues is remind tenants of the importance of removing all of their personal belongings from their residence before they vacate.

Still, it may be difficult to directly oversee every situation in your rental properties. You may find yourself overwhelmed with all there is to accomplish on a daily basis.

That’s where the property management experts from Bay Management Group come in. We can help with advertising, screening tenants, crafting legally compliant lease agreements, 24/7 maintenance, and more. If you are a property owner in Baltimore, Cumberland, Dauphin, Anne Arundel county or nearby Maryland, contact Bay Management Group today for more information, and let’s talk about how we can make your job as a landlord easier.