Generally, landlord-tenant laws are the body of laws which apply to all stages of the rental process. Landlord-tenant laws apply to both residential and commercial properties.
Every state has its own set of laws which govern different aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship. For example, local and state landlord-tenant laws will outline the general requirements for the rental process, including rules governing:
- Lease terms;
- Security deposits; and
- Various other basic tenant or landlord rights.
Both a landlord and a tenant should review the applicable laws in their state. There may also be other legal rights to which they are entitled or duties with which they must comply.
What is a Landlord?
A landlord is the owner of a residential or commercial property which is rented to a tenant or tenants. Landlords may be single individuals or corporate entities that own residential or commercial rental properties.
Landlords may be afforded certain legal rights. In addition, they may be required to perform certain legal duties for their tenants pursuant to local, state, and federal landlord-tenant laws. Basic rights which landlords have include:
- The right to be paid rent payments on time;
- The right to legally evict a tenant;
- The right to collect security deposits;
- The right to enter the rental property in the event of an emergency;
- The right to use security deposits to pay for necessary repairs or unpaid rent; and
- The right to conduct a background check on a prospective tenant in a lawful manner.
What is a Tenant?
A tenant who rents residential or commercial property from a landlord or property manager is afforded certain legal protections and rights in connection with that property. For example, it is against the law for a landlord to discriminate against a prospective tenant during the rental application process.
This means that landlords cannot refuse to rent a property to a tenant on the basis of their:
- Marital status; or
Other rights which residential or commercial tenants may have include:
- The right to a lawful eviction;
- The right to possess a habitable home;
- The right to privacy;
- The right to be refunded the security deposit within a certain period of time; and
- The right to quiet enjoyment of the property they are renting.
What is Abandoned Property?
Abandoned property is property that a true owner intentionally and voluntarily relinquishes, leaves behind, or surrenders under circumstances which demonstrate an intent to permanently give up ownership of that property. Examples of abandoned personal property may include personal property that was left by a tenant in a house after the tenant moves out as well as property which is left on the side of a roadway for a long period of time.
Abandoned property falls into the category of personal property. Personal property is “anything other than land that may be subject to ownership.”
The characteristic which defines personal property is that it is movable. Personal property may be tangible or intangible.
Examples of tangible personal property, or property that can be physically handled, include:
- Furniture; and
- Other items.
Examples of intangible property, or property which cannot be physically handled, include:
- Trust fund accounts; and
- Other similar items.
One common example of abandoned personal property is when a renter leaves behind items when they move to their new residence. Many individuals leave behind furniture that they do not desire to move or items they are unsure what to do with.
Abandoned property is especially common on and near college campuses, as many students leave their personal property once their classes end and they return home.
How Long Before Property is Considered Abandoned?
The process used to claim abandoned property is, in some cases, as simple as an individual claiming the clearly abandoned property as their own. For example, if an individual places a couch on the curb with a sign that reads, “free.”
If an individual wants to claim the couch, they simply put it in their vehicle and take it home with them. There are some processes which may be more complex, such as when the abandoned property is an item that is more complicated to claim, for example, a vehicle that is abandoned on the side of the road.
A court will typically consider the type of item as well as where the item was found when deciding whether or not to grant possession of that property to the finder. This process determines whether the finder of the abandoned property actually has a right to that property.
In general, personal property which has been lost or abandoned will be given to the finder. This does not apply, however, if the item is found at a residence that is occupied by the finder.
Additionally, if an employee finds an item during the course of their employment, that item is considered to belong to the employer.
What Can a Landlord Do with Property a Tenant Left Behind?
The actions that a landlord is permitted to take when a tenant has left property behind after they move out will depend on the jurisdiction where the property is located in addition to why and how the tenant moved out. Landlords are required to follow the steps of the applicable city or state statute governing abandoned property.
In general, a landlord will be required to take the following steps to dispose of property which has been abandoned by a tenant:
- Store the property in a safe manner where the property will not be damaged or stolen for a certain period of time;
- To avoid liability for damage to the property, a landlord must use reasonable care to store the property in a safe place. A landlord is permitted to charge a moving and storage fee;
- Make a reasonable effort to contact the tenant and to give them notice that the property is being sold or disposed of;
- Make a reasonable effort to contact any other individual whom the landlord believes may be the owner of the property;
- Return the property upon the owner’s request; and
- If any of the tenant’s property is left unclaimed, the landlord is permitted to sell the property;
- The landlord is required to give the tenant notice of the sale, typically by mailing the notice to the tenant’s last known address;
- The landlord is also typically required to publish or post notice of the sale on the premises where the property was abandoned or in the newspaper.
What Happens if a Landlord Illegally Destroys or Sells My Property?
If a landlord does not follow the specific statute that governs the disposal of abandoned property, the tenant is permitted to take legal action against the landlord. If a landlord disposes of a tenant’s property and the court determines that the property had not been abandoned, the landlord may be liable for the loss of that property as well as for attorney’s fees and court costs.
Do I Need a Lawyer for my Abandoned Property Problem?
Landlord-tenant law is a complex area of law that varies by jurisdiction. It is also constantly undergoing changes.
If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to abandoned property, either as a landlord or a tenant, a landlord tenant lawyer can advise you of your city’s laws regarding abandoned property. Your lawyer can also protect your rights whether you are an owner trying to dispose of abandoned property or a tenant fighting to recover your property.