Q&A Regarding Abandoned Personal Property

February 1, 2017

Q: After our tenant had officially moved out, there was still a considerable amount of his belongings in the unit. Can I still take possession of the unit? Is it legal for me to donate his belongings?

A: Yes, you can still take possession of the unit, and yes, it is legal for you to donate his belongings – but only after you comply with certain legal requirements.  The disposition of personal property left behind after a tenancy has terminated and the premises have been vacated is governed by Code of Civil Procedure sections 1980 through 1991.

You can take possession of the unit when you have a reasonable belief that the former tenant has vacated.  After taking possession of the unit, you must give written notice to the tenant and anyone else you believe is an owner of the personal belongings left in the unit.  The written notice must describe the belongings in sufficient detail to permit the owner of the belongings to identify them – but you do not have to describe belongings to which you do not have access, such as anything stored in a locked or fasted trunk, box, or other container. 

You must store the belongings with reasonable care but are not liable for any loss not caused by your deliberate or negligent act.  The written notice must advise the former tenant or other owner of the belongings that storage costs may be charged before the belongings are recovered, the address where the belongings may be claimed, and the last date for claiming the belongings.  The last date must be 15 or more days after the notice is personally delivered to the former tenant or other owner, or at least 18 days after the notice is mailed to the person’s last known address.  If the notice is mailed to the former tenant, one copy must be sent to the premises vacated by the tenant or, if the former tenant provided an email address, the landlord may also send the notice by email.  Code of Civil Procedure section 1984 provides a form designed to meet the requirements of the written notice.

If the belongings are claimed by the deadline, you must release them to the former tenant or owner if they pay the reasonable cost of storage.  You cannot charge for storage if the belongings remained in the dwelling and were claimed within two days of the vacate date. 

If the belongings are not claimed by the deadline and are believed to be worth less than $700, they may be kept, sold, or destroyed without further notice.  Donating them is presumed acceptable a well.  If the belongings are worth $700 or more and the notice stated they would be sold at a public sale, you must still release them to the tenant in exchange for the storage cost if they are claimed before the sale.  Otherwise, the belongings shall be sold at a public sale by competitive bidding, with notice published in a general circulation newspaper.  The proceedings after deducting storage and sale costs shall be paid to the county treasurer and may be claimed by the former tenant or owner within one year of the date of payment to the county.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Fried & Williams LLP. All Rights Reserved. The information in this article is general in nature and should not be considered legal advice. For any specific matter, please consult with an attorney.

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