As a lease comes to an end and tenants vacate, it is time to go through finding new tenants all over again. Part of a landlord’s job is to complete a move out inspection to determine tenant damage. However, what happens when you inspect the residence and find that the property’s tenant left personal items? Tenant abandoned property presents a tricky situation for landlords.
Especially if new occupants are waiting to move forward, thankfully, most state laws on the issue are clear, and the steps landlords must take are fairly straightforward. So, continue reading below to learn how to handle tenant abandoned property as a landlord.
What the Law Says About Tenant Abandoned Property
When dealing with tenant abandoned property in rental properties, landlords always want to follow the law in leasing policies. 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)).”
Maryland landlords are luckier than most in that if the lease terminates 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 clearing tenant abandoned property from the home.
That said, other states have more extensive guidelines landlords must follow when handling tenant abandoned property. For example, a landlord may need to store the property for a set timeframe or send written notices attempting to return items. Therefore, to avoid costly liability, understanding what to do with abandoned tenant possessions is vital.
How to Handle Tenant Abandoned Property
The legal outline for when a landlord can and cannot dispose of tenant abandoned property is pretty straightforward. However, property owners still want to follow added steps to protect themselves from claims by the tenant. Tenants could allege that the landlord or someone else unlawfully destroyed or even stole their possessions. So, if you want to do as much as possible to get the tenant’s possessions back in their hands, here are a few steps below.
- Create a List
- Store Abandoned Property
- Send Notice to the Tenant
- Hand Over Belongings
Create a List
The first step is to take inventory of all items left behind. If there are containers with numerous items inside them, do not open the containers. Instead, note the unopened container. Additionally, take photographic evidence to document each item’s condition.
Store Abandoned Property
Many states do require landlords to store tenant abandoned property for a set timeframe safely. However, this time frame varies from state to state. Landlords may choose to use any secure place, even a garage. Although, experts advise using a dedicated rental storage facility.
Send Notice to the Tenant
Once an inventory of the tenant abandoned property is complete, landlords need to make a reasonable effort to reach the tenant. So, write a notice to the former tenant or any other person you believe may be the abandoned belongings owner. Notices of tenant abandoned property should include the following:
- An itemized and descriptive list of possessions left behind with enough detail for the owner to identify it.
- 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.
- 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.
Hand Over Belongings
If the tenant responds to the notice, landlords can jump into action to finally rid themselves of the abandoned belongings. Therefore, if the tenant wishes to claim their possessions, landlords must do the following –
- Schedule Mutually Agreed Upon Time – When a tenant responds within the legally allotted timeframe, landlords can schedule a time to hand over the property. Ideally, this needs to be a mutually agreed upon time, and landlords should make reasonable efforts to accommodate a tenant.
- Make the Tenant Abandoned Property Available – At the agreed-upon time, go over the itemized list and account for each item with the tenant present. Also, to prevent any disputes, the landlord and tenant should sign off on the return of all items on that date.
- Settle Any Outstanding Storage Charges – In most states that require landlords to store tenant abandoned property, landlords have a right to recoup associated charges. However, the fees must be reasonable and well documented.
What Happens if Tenant Abandoned Property is Not Claimed?
When a landlord has followed all state and local guidelines, the tenant abandoned property is not claimed; what now? Well, here are a few of your options –
- SELL – Sell the items at a local auction (in some states, if the total estimated value is above $300 landlords must sell), an online store, or a resale shop.
- DONATE – Donate the items to a local shelter or thrift store like the New to You Consignment Shop in Annapolis.
- DISCARD – Throw the items away, or – if the items are of considerable size – have them hauled away and placed in a local recycling dump, like Maryland Recycle Co Inc. in Glen Burnie.
While these guidelines are not laid out in Maryland law, they’re good practices if you want to avoid tarnishing your standing as an excellent landlord. After all, a great landlord-tenant relationship is the foundation of any rental business.
Are There Exceptions to Abandoned Property Laws?
Yes, but only in certain circumstances! Sometimes, tenant abandoned property does not fall under state rules. For instance, if the property is strewn with obvious garbage, there is no reason to go through all the procedures of notifying your tenant. Just throw it away! That said, there are other exceptions, including –
If there are no provisions in the lease or personal contracts between the landlord and tenant, anything installed by the tenant becomes part of the premises. This can include bookshelves or light fixtures that are built into the property itself as permanent additions. Therefore, these belong to the landlord, so property owners do not need to take any further steps to return them.
Unfortunately, tenants may leave inoperable vehicles in a parking lot, garage, or around the property. These fall under a special category of personal property to which state rules do not apply. Landlords may choose to notify the tenant and ask them to remove it. However, all property owners must do is call the local police (you will need to give them the vehicle’s license plate number, make, and model, and indicate where it’s located). Afterward, authorities will tow the vehicle. Then, if the tenant wants it, they will need to retrieve it from impoundment.
How to Avoid the Risk of Tenant Abandoned Property?
Like many landlords’ issues, preventing tenant abandoned property begins with proper tenant screening and a legal lease agreement. Although issues do arise unexpectedly, landlords can still take steps to avoid dealing with possessions left behind with these suggestions below.
A Thorough Screening Process
Tenant screening is a great way to avoid many potential problems landlords face. One of the most important steps is to ask for prior landlord references. This, providing a wealth of information on how you can anticipate the tenant will treat your property. Additionally, screen for total income, creditworthiness, and criminal background. Never overlook this step and always take time to call references for every applicant.
Comprehensive and Legally Binding Lease
The lease is the lifeblood of any good landlord-tenant relationship. It serves as a written record of expectations for each party, along with the consequences of not following through. Also, one key clause states that tenants must return the property in the same condition they found it. Thus, meaning removing all personal property or furniture from the unit. Remember to review each section of the lease with your tenant before moving in and answering any questions they may have.
Dealing with tenant abandoned property is more common than most landlords like to admit. The important thing is to understand how to handle the situation properly if it ever comes up. Following the state and local laws in your area is critical to limiting landlord liability when there is property left behind.
Do you find yourself overwhelmed by all there is to accomplish as a landlord daily? That is where the property management experts from Bay Property Management Group come in. Our experienced team handles advertising, screening tenants, crafting legally compliant lease agreements, 24/7 maintenance, and so much more. So, if you are looking for rental property management in Washington DC, Baltimore, Cumberland, Dauphin, Anne Arundel County, or nearby Maryland, contact Bay Property Management Group today!