Property Managers and Abandoned Property left Behind by the Tenant
Many rental property owners choose to use professional property managers such as Martin Feinberg because they don’t want to deal with the unpleasant aspects of rental property ownership. One of those unpleasant tasks that property managers sometimes encounter is dealing with abandoned property left behind by a previous tenant. However, experienced property managers know what to do in such situations.
What exactly is tenant property?
Tenant property is any personal possessions owned by a tenant or their guests. This includes things stored in a garage or in the yard.
Most leases require the tenant to restore the property back to its original condition at the conclusion of the lease, which means moving out their personal property. Sometimes personal property is still left behind though
When tenant property is left behind in a unit, property managers must follow a certain process to either return or get rid of the abandoned property. Property managers have a responsibility to securely store tenant’s possessions for a reasonable amount of time and to also allow tenants to reclaim their property within that time frame. Property managers cannot assume that items left behind are not wanted unless the lease specifically states that all left behind property will be considered abandoned.
Before property managers can deal with tenant property they should first address why the property was left behind.
Why did the tenant leave?
Property managers have the most flexibility when a lease has ended or a tenant has given a termination notice of their own accord. If a lease termination notice was served on the tenant, but the property manager followed due process and gave the correct number of days’ notice, most states also allow the manager a lot of flexibility with left behind property in that circumstance as well.
However, if the tenant was evicted or disappeared and left without notice, property managers need to tread much more carefully. There are usually more detailed protocols that need to be followed to ensure the tenant gets their belongings back. In an eviction, law enforcement will usually handle most of the details and let a property manager know what they can sell to get compensation for unpaid rent.
In the case of a disappearance, property managers should be very delicate. they cannot hold on to tenant property in a bid to get them to pay rent.
Property managers should always consult their local and state laws when dealing with tenant property to ensure that they remain on the right side of the law.
What was left behind?
There are different rules for handling tenant items depending on what the item is. Garbage can be thrown away, for example. Left behind fixtures become fixtures of the unit and do not have to be returned. Property managers can use the security deposit to remove and/or replace fixtures left behind that they do not wish to keep. Motor vehicles (whether they function or not) need to be handled through local law enforcement. The police can help determine what should be towed. Furniture and other personal property should be inventoried and safely stored so that it can be returned, sold, kept, or thrown away legally after a determined amount of time.
Property managers should remember to keep a detailed list of all expenses incurred when handling and storing tenant property so that they can seek reimbursement for those costs. Having an itemized list of what was left behind, and the fair market value of each item, can help property managers recoup their costs if the items end up being sold.
Does the tenant want it back?
Property managers should always perform a walk through (with the tenant if possible but without if not) after a property has been vacated so that they are aware of anything that has been left behind as soon as possible. If a tenant needs to be notified of personal property that has not been removed, the property manager should make every effort to do so in a timely manner.
If a tenant claims the property, landlords need to remember that in some states there is a time window when certain belongings must be returned. In California for example, landlords have 72 hours to surrender small items like clothes and electronics. Larger items can be negotiated.
If the tenant doesn’t claim the property—depending on state regulations—landlords can either hold a public or private sale of the property. They can also choose to donate it or simply throw it away. They need to be aware though that many states also have rules on when the property manager can decide what do with the property him or herself, and when they legally have to hold a formal sale.
Most states allow a property manager to keep a reasonable amount from the sale of left behind items to cover the expenses of dealing with them in the first place.