Most states allow landlords to sell or dispose of personal property their tenants leave behind after an eviction. Bailment laws in some states require landlords to hold a tenant's abandoned property for a specified amount of time before they can sell or discard their personal property. Post-eviction abandoned property laws in New York require landlords to follow specific procedures when discarding personal property tenants may leave behind.
Abandoned Property or Lost Property
Property laws distinguish between property that tenants intentionally abandon and property that tenants unintentionally leave behind. Commonly, tenants may unintentionally abandon property during evictions assisted through a sheriff's office or through the marshal's office. Legally, landlords are responsible for safeguarding a tenant's property and returning it after the bailment period ends. Lost property is property that a tenant would not reasonably leave behind.
Ownership of Remaining Property
When landlords evict their tenants for nonpayment of rent or illegally holding over their tenancies, landlords have the ultimate responsibilities to remove property from their tenants' homes. New York law views property remaining in a tenant's home as the rightful property of the tenant. The landlord has no right to sell a tenant's personal possessions or to discard them as abandoned property. Unless a tenant clearly expresses his intent to abandon his property, the title and ownership remains with the evicted tenant.
Landlord’s Bailment Duties
A landlord does not have a legal right to dispose of a tenant's remaining property unless she can provide evidence that it was intentionally discarded by the tenant or intentionally abandoned by the evicted tenant. Landlords can face gross negligence liability claims when they fail to properly safeguard their tenants' property. A landlord's bailment responsibilities include providing written notice to an evicted tenant allowing her to retrieve her possessions within a reasonable period of time. "Reasonable" depends on the specifics of eviction. Generally, landlords should provide their tenants with at least 30 days' written notice to claim their property.
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Notice and Failure to Reclaim
If a tenant fails to reclaim her property after a reasonable opportunity to do so, the landlord can sell the property, discard the property or place items in storage. Tenants can sue their landlords for failing to safeguard their property through post-eviction lawsuits. Landlords who request sheriff-or marshal-assisted evictions do not have the legal right to remove their tenants' property and cannot request local law enforcement officials to help them remove property.
Since state laws can frequently change, do not use this information as a substitute for legal advice. Seek advice through an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.