So, you’ve successfully evicted a problem tenant after a long and frustrating legal process. You’ve provided notice and a legal reason for eviction, and you may have even had to go to court. 

Now that the tenant has left the premises, you’re ready to start looking for a new resident to fill your vacant rental property. However, there’s just one problem left: the evicted tenant’s belongings.

After a lengthy eviction process, the last thing you want to have to deal with is another headache-inducing situation. However, if a former tenant has left things behind in the rental property, you can’t just throw them away.

If your former tenant left any possessions behind, you as the landlord will have a responsibility to make sure that the tenant has a fair chance at getting those items back before you get rid of them. 

Failing to take these responsibilities seriously could result in some hefty fines and legal issues, so it’s important that you are aware of the proper procedure that you will need to follow in this situation. 

Not sure where to start? Luckily, we have provided a comprehensive guide with everything you need to know when it comes to handling a former tenant’s belongings. Keep reading to learn more!

Person standing in front of a moving truck full of cardboard boxes looking at a tablet

Why Did the Tenant Leave the Property?

Before you begin to figure out how to handle a former tenant’s belongings, it is important to look at your reason for the eviction, as this will greatly affect the following process. Depending on your reason for evicting the tenant, you may have a varied number of responsibilities that you must uphold. 

Each state will have its own set of laws regarding your level of responsibility for getting an evicted resident’s belongings returned to them after they have left. It’s important to be familiar with your specific state laws to make sure you are abiding by them. 

If during the eviction process you need to involve any law officers, they should help to handle any removal of their belongings as well as help you determine which items you can or cannot sell to cover any costs related to the eviction proceedings. 

While it is impossible for us to cover every eviction situation, each court order will have a different precedence set up that can help to navigate you through the process. 

Give the Tenants a Chance to Get Their Items Back

While not every state requires you to do this, it is a good idea for landlords to generally consider a holding period on all abandoned belongings. By holding on to these items for a short period, you will be giving tenants a chance to retrieve them while lowering any risk of the tenant being able to take legal action against you for lost property. 

Close up of hands taping a moving box closed

It is a relatively simple process to give evicted tenants an opportunity to get their items back, and in most cases, the evicted tenant will be responsible for covering any costs that come up. 

Unless the state that your rental property is in has a law that says otherwise, you will most likely find that holding onto abandoned items for seven to 10 days is an adequate amount of time. 

If a tenant that you have evicted wishes to come and retrieve the items, they will return during this holding period. However, in some states, this holding period is longer, so always check your local laws before making any final decisions. 

Storage and Disposal of a Former Tenant’s Belongings

Now that you have a set holding period for these items, you may be wondering: where can I store them? This can be particularly frustrating if the tenant has left a large number of items behind for you to deal with. Here is what you must do in this situation.

1. Take Out the Trash

Make sure to throw away any belongings that are very clearly trash, and keep track of any costs that you may have to pay during the disposal process. 

Two people wearing baseball caps looking at cardboard boxes in a moving van

2. Organize and Take Inventory of the Items

Once all of the trash is out of the way, you can start to take a full inventory of all the items that were left behind by the tenant. Be careful not to open any locked items, but make sure to keep a thorough list of the items, including everything that you will be storing. It can be extra helpful in the long run to take photos of each item to keep on record. 

3. Store the Items

You can store the abandoned belongings on the rental property, or you can use a storage unit away from the home. If you are starting to prepare the rental home for your next tenants, then paying for a storage unit may be the best course of action as long as you keep track of the costs.

However, there is one thing that you must be careful about. In certain states, the items that were left behind must be stored inside the rental property for a short amount of time before you are allowed to move them. For example, in the state of Pennsylvania, a former tenant’s belongings must be kept at the home for the first 10 days of storage

4. Send a Notice

As mentioned above, it’s important to inform your former tenants of where they can find their belongings and how long they will be kept. This notice can also include any costs that you have had to pay while storing their belongings, as they will be responsible for repaying you. 

Two movers in jumpsuits holding cardboard boxes

Make sure to include the following information in your notice:

  • A detailed inventory of the items.
  • Their approximate value.
  • Where they can be retrieved.
  • Your holding period.
  • Your method of disposal should the items go unclaimed.

5. Dispose of or Sell the Items

If the tenant fails to come and get their belongings by the end of the holding period, you may then dispose of or sell the items. Keep in mind that certain items, such as vehicles, must be reported to the police, as you cannot simply take possession of a car without letting local law enforcement know. 

In some states, any money that you make by selling abandoned belongings must go to the state, so it is crucial to check out your local regulations. 

6. Pay Yourself

Once you arrive at this stage in the process, you must account for any damages that were left at the property or any financial losses that you have had to deal with by storing or getting rid of the former tenant’s belongings. 

The profit that you make from a local bond sale or selling any items individually may be used to cover these costs, however, you must once again be familiar with your local regulations to ensure that you can legally keep the funds. 

Bottom Line

When it comes to an evicted tenant’s belongings, it is important to be familiar with your legal responsibilities regarding their storage and disposal. While it may be tempting to simply get rid of the items, this course of action can result in very real consequences that any landlord should avoid. 

You might also want to learn about what to do with a previous tenant’s mail if you’ve recently had a tenant move out or be evicted. You can read a helpful article on that here!