Options for a Landlord When a Tenant's Personal Property Has Been Left in the Rental Unit

A landlord has a tricky situation on his hands when his tenant leaves property behind in the apartment. State laws dictate what a landlord can and cannot do with the tenant property, as well as the amount of time the landlord has until he is no longer responsible for the property. The lease agreement established between a landlord and tenant usually includes a clause that covers what happens to the tenant's property in case he leaves it behind and how long he has to redeem it.


Establishing Abandonment

If the tenant has abandoned the property instead of being evicted from the apartment, you need to establish that the tenant is not coming back. The Landlord Protection Agency recommends asking the neighbors whether the tenants indicated that they were moving, documenting whether the tenants verbally said they were leaving the premises before the lease term concludes, checking to see whether large portions of personal property have been removed and finding out whether utilities have been turned off.


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The lease agreement typically has a clause that states tenants need to inform the landlord of extended absences. If the tenant ignores this clause and leaves the property past the amount of time specified in the lease, without any notice, the landlord can reasonably conclude that the apartment is abandoned.

In the event that this clause is not written in to the lease agreement, state landlord and tenant laws cover abandonment conditions and requirements. These laws vary from state to state, and generally the landlord needs some kind of specific proof that the property is abandoned. For example, Washington state landlord-tenant laws state that an apartment is considered abandoned if the tenant is more than 30 days behind on a rent payment and has verbally indicated he is not returning to the apartment.


Each state has specific requirements regarding how long property must be stored by the landlord, and the methods in which the landlord needs to attempt to contact the tenant regarding the property. Oklahoma's landlord and tenant laws require the landlord to wait three months before considering the property abandoned, while in Washington state the landlord must give the tenant 45 days to pick up the property.

The notice requirements also vary between states and may not be specific as to the measures the landlord needs to take to notify the tenant beyond "reasonable measures." A mailed notice to the last known address or forwarding address of the tenant satisfies the requirements in Washington state, Oklahoma and other states.


Property Storage

Property storage laws vary on a state-by-state basis, but, even after you know the tenant has abandoned the rental unit, you still need to take reasonable care of the property left behind. You can choose to leave the property where it is in the rental unit, as long as the rental unit can be considered a reasonably safe storage option. You may also choose to move the property into a storage facility, in case you are preparing the rental unit to go back on the market. Fees for the storage facility are paid either through the eventual public sale of the abandoned property or by the tenant if he claims the property.


Time Line

The specific amount of time that you need to hold on to the property before doing anything with it depends on your state's landlord-tenant laws. An average time frame is about one month, although some states, such as Washington, require landlords to keep the property on hand for 45 days before selling it.


The value of the property determines exactly what you can do with it if it remains unclaimed. Property above a certain estimated value must be turned in to the police as lost. California sets this limit at $100, and each state has its own lost property laws. A landlord is generally required to have an advertised public sale if the total value of the property exceeds a set number, such as $300 in California. If the value of the property is lower than the state's requirement, the landlord can get rid of it however he chooses.