Successfully evicting a tenant will feel like a sigh of relief after going through the entire eviction process. However, your responsibilities as a landlord are not over yet. It’s highly possible that the tenant left some of their possessions behind. You cannot simply throw it all away. Doing this will surely result in legal repercussions.
There are certain procedures in dealing with a tenant’s possessions when they’ve moved out of your property. Each state has different guidelines. You must research your state’s landlord-tenant laws in regards to governing tenant possessions.
Basic Steps to Follow:
1. Assess the reason why the tenant left.
In this case, the tenant left because of an eviction. In this case, the law officers assigned to handle tenant removal can help. They can determine what you can sell and what you must hold for a certain amount of time.
2. Determine your holding period.
As mentioned earlier, different states have different requirements for tenants’ possessions left behind. To protect yourself from a lawsuit, it’s best to keep their belongings for a period of time. This gives them the chance to retrieve their possessions.
You should keep a tenant’s items for 7 to 10 days (some states require longer though so do your research). An evicted tenant who wants their belongings will likely return within that period to get them back. They will, of course, shoulder the storage costs of holding their belongings for this time.
3. Evaluate the belongings left behind.
Take inventory of what the tenant left behind. You can sort between their trash and valuables. You can also freely toss their garbage, such as perishables and obvious trash. Don’t forget to take into account the cost of disposing of their trash.
For valuable items, document them in a list accompanied by photos of each item. If the tenant installed fixtures in your units such as bookshelves, coat hooks, or light fixtures, these become your property. If the tenant left a motor vehicle, turn it over to the local enforcement and let them handle it.
4. Choose where to store their belongings.
You get to decided where to store the belongings that the tenant left behind. You can keep them on your property or rent a storage unit to hold them. As you will likely begin marketing the vacant property as you search for a new tenant, you should pay for a storage unit. However, some states do require the landlord to hold the leftover belongings for the first 10 days on the property. Conducting research on your State’s laws is essential.
5. Notify the tenant.
Contact the tenant and let them know the location of their possessions. You must inform them about the holding period and the storage costs so they’re aware of the associated safekeeping expenses.
The written notice should include the following information:
- An itemized list of the belongings.
- The deadline for claiming their possessions (5-45 days is usually sufficient depending on state laws).
- The location of their belongings.
- Associated storage costs for holding their possessions.
- Consequences of not claiming their belongings (sell, donate, throw away, etc.).
You must make an active effort in delivering the notice, either in person or by first-class mail. You should keep a return receipt on file. If you have a record of an emergency contact of the evicted tenant, you can also send notice to that person. The important thing is to provide proof that you’ve exhausted all means of sending the notice.
6. Make the items available for retrieval at a reasonable time and place.
When the tenant arrives and claims their possessions, surrender them right away, especially if they’re smaller items. For bigger items, plan adequately ahead of time for their removal. Always keep your removal and storage expenses handy so you can ask the tenant for reimbursement when the items have been returned. You can also deduct this amount from their security deposit once they retrieve their belongings.
7. Decide whether to dispose of or sell items still left behind.
Check your state regulations governing the sale of tenant’s belongings. You can opt to sell, donate, keep, or throw away the items. In some states, selling these items depends on the property’s value and may require a public auction.
The tenant should reimburse expenses from sending notices, removing, and storing leftover possessions and unpaid rent costs. However, some states determine how much additional income you can keep. Some states may regulate what you can do with the remainder of the profits.
Tips to Ensure Tenant Will Have a Clean Move Out:
1. Screen prospective tenants strictly.
Review the history of your prospective tenant. Check with previous landlords whether the tenant has a history of leaving their possessions behind. Focus on credit checking to ensure that applicants are financially responsible.
2. Include an abandoned property clause in the lease.
To prevent future stress, include terms in your leasing contract that would detail the following:
- A list stating what constitutes as abandoned property.
- Holding period (maybe longer than the State laws) for possessions left behind.
- Disposal costs for storage and removal of possessions.
- Payment methods for disposal costs (security deposit deduction or payment upon retrieval).
- What actions you will take if the tenant doesn’t retrieve their belongings.
The practice of including these conditions in your lease will help facilitate a smooth turnover of items. It’s also an easy reference if this situation occurs. This will protect you from court cases or lawsuits as you covered the terms in the lease agreement.
You should learn about your state’s laws governing tenants’ possessions that have been left behind. As a landlord, it’s still your duty to respect your evicted tenant’s belongings.
To make this complicated matter easier, you can hire a property management company like Realty Management Associates, Inc.. They’re experts when it comes to tenant move-outs, tenant screening, and understanding state regulations.