carrying moving boxes

Abandoned Property: What Happens When Tenants Leave Items Behind? 

What are the legal requirements when a property management company or landlord finds items that have been left behind? You might be surprised to find that the answer is not as simple as throwing it all out.

The laws regarding the responsibilities of landlords or property managers when it comes to property left behind by former tenants or lease owners are not straightforward or cut-and-dry. 

One would initially think that the most obvious answer would be to dispose of the items. Let’s take a closer look at why that is not the first step in this fairly complicated process. 

abandoned red chair

What Is Considered Abandoned Property? 

Your tenants have moved out, but some of their possessions have been left behind. Now what?  Landlords are faced with the issue of wondering what they can legally do with items once the tenants are no longer in the picture. 

Abandoned property is considered any possession that has been left in the unit, storage areas, or parking spots after the tenant has moved out or been evicted. Property that has been left behind could include: 

  • Things stored in a garage, attic, or basement.
  • Cars or other vehicles parked on the property.
  • Air conditioners or other fixtures that have become a more permanent part of the property. Permanent fixtures added to the apartment such as shelving, grab bars, or ceiling fans often become a part of the apartment and fall under the landlord’s domain.
  • Pets that have been left in the unit or on the outside of the property (yes, it happens). 

couches in an apartment

Steps in the Complex Process of Dealing with Abandoned Items

Depending upon the state in which you own property (or manage the property), you may have different legal requirements to check off before you can dispose of or sell the items in question. Here is a quick rundown of what you may need to do before packing it all up or hauling it to the dump. 

  • Determine why the tenants left. Check local laws for specific rules. Guidelines may be different depending upon if they were called up for military service, were evicted, or their lease came to an end.
  • Review your rental terms for clauses related to abandoned property. Many leases include a time allotment that tenants have for returning to claim abandoned property.
  • Document and inventory the abandoned property and damages. This should include not only pictures of the items but descriptions of them as well. 
  • Give the former tenant legal notice of abandoned property.
  • Sell, dispose of, or store the property, depending on local laws, the amount of time that has passed, and the steps you took to notify the previous tenants of the items. 

As you can see, handling rental properties and the items that were left behind is a fairly complex and legal process where the onus is put on the property owner or property manager to determine that they have fulfilled their legal duty to the tenant. Be sure to check with your legal team for your local laws and regulations regarding abandoned property. 


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