Hello, property management teams in the best industry ever! We’ve seen a lot of costly mistakes made in this industry and the purpose of this column is to help you avoid them. Does this story sound familiar?

Suzy Leasing:  Last week, I walked a move-out that skipped out on rent. The apartment was a disaster to say the least; I had fleas jumping on me and had to step over garbage. I got out of the apartment and instructed the maintenance team to toss everything.

D: Suzy, I hope that you filled out an abandoned property notice to protect you from the resident coming back to claim that there was something of importance in the apartment.

Suzy Leasing: Well, it just so happens that the resident did come back and said that they had left a family heirloom in the apartment worth $25,000 and they wanted it back.

D: Suzy, This is a “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING” moment! An abandoned property notice is about a $1.50 [FREE online to AOA members] compared to a possible lawsuit for the $25,000 heirloom.

Suzy Leasing – Could the tenant file and win a lawsuit?

Dana: Well, that depends on the attorney and judge, however, you will be going to court without the required abandonment notice form and telling the judge that all of the contents in the apartment were junk and you tossed it.  Suzy, one person’s junk is another’s treasure.

Even if you feel that the contents of the apartment are under [the maximum amount where you can legally toss the property – $700.00], do yourself a favor, protect yourself and fill out the abandoned property notice. Renters are savvy and by not properly filling out the abandoned property notice form, the tenant can come back and claim damages on an item they say was in the apartment. Once the form is filled out and you have waited the appropriate amount of days and depending on delivery method, then it is time to give a shout out to maintenance.

Zach: As a maintenance tech, my first question would be what is supposed to be kept (as valuable) and what can be tossed. This can be tricky determining what is garbage and what is valuable. As Dana mentioned above, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.  My basic rule of thumb is to start with what is on the floor. Likely, if it’s on the floor and covered in paper and garbage, it’s not valuable to the resident.  If it is hanging on the wall or on a shelf or in a dresser then it probably means something to the former resident, and should be stored temporarily until the abandoned property process has reached its statute of limitation.
Next, the question is how to get this unit ready to work on for turnover.  As mentioned above, get the floors generally cleaned up – usually with trash bags, rubber gloves, and a scoop shovel.  If you find something in the garbage that may be valuable, stick it on the shelf to be addressed later.

Then I would take many pictures of the remaining items left just for documentation. In the case of a skip or a hoarder, I would hire a vendor to do the pack-out and moving of the remaining items. This not only frees up the maintenance staff, it also passes some liability of items being damaged or missing to a neutral party. If you have a storage space on site, then have the vendor move the items into the storage area. I recommend not co-mingling the belongings of different residents, so only store one unit per storage area.  If you don’t have a storage area then you will have to find a local storage facility, and the vendor will have to load the items and deliver them there. All of these costs can be recovered from the resident.

Once the unit is ready for turnover work, and we have all valuable items stored and ready for pick-up by resident, we simply wait. Let’s be honest, most folks who skip will not be coming back for their items. That said, you never know when they may be setting us up for a lawsuit, so follow the same procedure with all residents. That’s why they call it “best practice”. If we ever do find ourselves in front of a judge we have a set process, pictures, invoices, third party vendors, the former resident’s junk, and a solid case.

Dana Brown and Zach Howell have been working and training managers and maintenance staff in the property management industry for 20 + years. They are excited to give back and share the crazy stories that can only happen in our industry. We would love it if you would share your stories and “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING” moments with us as well as questions that you need answers to. Dana can be reached at: dana@multifamilynw.org.  Zach can be reached at: zach@aminstitute.net.

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