A common problem for landlords is abandoned tenant property. When a tenant leaves an apartment, what should the landlord do about any property left behind?
If the landlord is certain that the tenant has completely moved out of the apartment, the problem is easy to solve. A landlord should first contact the tenant and see if they want the property. If the landlord can’t get an answer from the tenant, the landlord should store the property for as long as they can. I recommend that landlords wait a minimum of sixty days before discarding any left behind possessions. Landlords should take pictures of abandoned tenant property and contact the tenant in writing.
If it isn’t clear whether the tenant has moved out of the apartment, discarding abandoned tenant property becomes tricky. Landlords need to avoid the worst possible mistake a landlord can make: self-help (where a landlord attempts to evict a tenant outside of the law). In other words, landlords need to be sure that the tenant has left the apartment before discarding abandoned tenant property. Common sense is the best test for this: if the tenant hasn’t been back to the property in months, has taken most of their items with them, and has made no contact with the landlord, it is likely the tenant has left the apartment for good.
However, if the landlord has any doubt about this, the landlord should proceed with caution. The safest approach is an eviction proceeding against the tenant. In most cases, the tenant will never show up to court, allowing the landlord to get a default judgment (an automatic win). An eviction isn’t a quick process; even if uncontested, an eviction will likely take up to two months. However, if it is possible for a tenant to ever claim that they never left the apartment, this extra time may be well worth it for the landlord.
If you are a landlord with a case of abandoned tenant property, contact me for a consultation.