Q:  I served my tenant with a three day notice to pay rent or quit and he moved most of his belongings out during the three day period but he did leave some of his personal property behind.  What am I required to do with the things he left behind?

When a tenant leaves property behind after termination of the tenancy, the landlord may consider the items abandoned property.  How the landlord disposes of the abandoned property depends upon the value of the property.  If the property is valued at less than $700 the landlord can dispose of it however he so chooses.  However, if the property is valued at over $700, the landlord has to sell the property at a public auction. 

Q:  My tenant vacated his apartment without giving me any notice.  I have not heard from him in over a month.  He left behind a TV, a sofa, clothing, and other miscellaneous personal items.  How do I determine how much it is worth? 

Once the tenant has vacated the premises you are still required to sell the property at public auction if the tenant does not come back and claim the property and the value of the property is more than $700.  There is no specific method that you are required to use to determine the value of the property left behind.  You should consider how much the property would sell for if you were to sell it at a garage sale or how much you believe someone would realistically pay for the property at an auction.  Take the TV for example, if the TV is more than 10 years old, it will probably not be worth more than $50.  If the TV is a 46” HD flat screen model purchased last year it will likely be worth more.  You should make an inventory of everything left behind, take pictures of the items, and write down estimates of how much you believe the property would sell for.  If you are uncertain you can always look for similar items on Craigslist, or online auction websites for a better idea. 

Q:  Can I move my tenant’s personal property that he left behind?  And how long do I have to wait before I can dispose of it?

You are required to store the personal property in a safe place.  If you have a storage unit or garage on the property you may carefully move the personal property into one of those areas and keep it under lock and key until you dispose of it.  Alternatively, if you have an off-site storage area you can move the property there as well.  If none of these options is available to you then you may simply leave the property inside the unit and keep the unit secured until you dispose of the property. 

Once you secure and store the property, you must notify the tenant, and any other person that you believe owns the property, that the property has been left on the premises.  In the notice you must describe the property left behind and state that the property must be claimed within 15 days (if you personally deliver the notice) or 18 days (if you mail the notice), or you will sell the property at public auction.  Thus, you must wait 15 days if you personally deliver the notice or 18 days if you mail the notice to the tenant and/or owner of the property left behind, before you may appropriately dispose of the property. 

Q: If my tenant comes back to get his property during the 15 day period, can I charge him for any costs I incurred in storing the property?

Yes, in fact, you can require the tenant pay your “reasonable” storage and/or removal costs before you will release the property to him.  However, you may not withhold the tenant’s personal property in order to force him to pay you any back rent that he may owe you.  

Q:  I filed an unlawful detainer against my tenant and the Sheriff came and locked him out of the property. Do I still have to send him a notice of abandoned property?

No.  Once you go through the court eviction process and the Sheriff conducts a lockout, you are not required to give the tenant or the owner of any property left behind any additional notice. You are simply required to wait 15 days until after you get possession of the rental unit before you may dispose of the property.  Again, the manner you use to dispose of the property will depend on whether the items are worth more than $700.  

 Q: How can I dispose of the property if it is worth less than $700? 

After you wait the appropriate amount of days, (either 15 or 18 depending on the factors mentioned above), you may dispose the property in any manner you so choose if the total value is less than $700.  You may keep the property, donate the property, or throw the property away.  I would still recommend that you take an inventory and/or pictures of the items that your tenant left at the premises.

 Q: What is a public sale and what do I do with the proceeds?

If the property left behind after the appropriate 15 or 18 day period is valued at more than $700, you must sell it at a public sale.  A public sale is described as a competitive bidding public auction.  You must publish notice of this sale in a local newspaper at least once a week for two successive weeks. 

After the sale, you may deduct the costs of storage, advertising and conducting the sale from the proceeds.  Any remaining balance must be paid to the county treasurer.  The former tenant or owner of the property then has one year to go to the county treasurer to collect that money.

Attorney Franco Simone, of the Landlords Legal Center and has been doing evictions for 18 years.  He is also an adjunct law professor at the University of San Diego.  Mr. Simone’s office is open Monday- Friday from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  Walk-in’s welcome -no appointment necessary.  Tel: 619-235-6180, website: www.landlordslegalcenter.com or email info@landlordslegalcenter.com.

 

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