Abandoned property is property that the true owner voluntarily and intentionally relinquishes, surrenders, or leaves behind under circumstances demonstrating intent to permanently give up ownership of the property.  Examples include personal property left by a tenant in a house or apartment after a tenant moves out and property left along side of the roadway for a long period of time.

What Can a Landlord Do with Property a Tenant Left Behind?

The actions a landlord may take when a tenant has left behind property after moving out depends on the jurisdiction that the property is located and how and why the tenant moved out.  A landlord must follow the specific steps of the state or city statute regarding abandoned property.  Generally, a landlord must take the following steps to dispose of the property that has been abandoned: 

  • 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 can charge a moving and storage fee.
  • Make a reasonable effort to contact the tenant and to give him notice that the property is being sold or disposed of.
  • Make a reasonable effort to contact any other person whom the landlord believes may be the owner of the property.
  • Return the property upon the owner’s request.
  • If any property is left unclaimed, the landlord may sell the property.  The landlord must give the tenant notice of the sale, usually by mailing the notice to the tenant’s last known address.  The landlord is also generally required to post or publish notice of the sale on the premises where the property was abandoned or in a newspaper. 

What Happens if a Landlord Illegally Destroys or Sells My Property?

If the rules of the specific statute governing the disposal of abandoned property are not followed by the landlord, the tenant may take legal action against the landlord.  If the landlord disposes of a tenant’s property and a court determines that the property had not actually been abandoned, the landlord may be liable for the loss of the property, as well as for lawyer and court costs.

Do I Need a Lawyer for my Abandoned Property Problem?

Landlord tenant law is very complex, varies by city, and is constantly undergoing changes.  An experienced landlord tenant lawyer can advise you of the your city’s laws regarding abandoned property and can protect your rights whether you are an owner trying to dispose of abandoned property or a tenant fighting to recover your property.