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When Can You Throw Away a Former Tenant's Belongings?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 17, 2015 10:58 AM

Whether your last lease ended amicably or atrociously, your former tenant may have left a few of their things behind. So how long do you need to wait before clearing their belongings out? And do you have to hold onto their stuff before you toss it into the trash? Can you keep it if you like it?

State laws on leases and rental agreements can vary, so the answer may depend on where your rental unit is located. The answer will also depend on whether the property was left behind after the lease ended or after an eviction. Generally, however, here's some advice on what to do with a former tenant's things.

Peaceful Parting

If your tenant simply moved out after the lease ended, or left early for some reason, most states require notice and time before you can dispose of his or her belongings. Even if the former tenant owes you money, you may have to move and store the personal property, provide notice regarding the property's location and instructions for removal, and wait a certain amount of time before you can sell or trash the property.

These time and notice requirements can vary significantly. For example, in Wisconsin, landlords have to provide notice to the ex-tenant within 10 days after move out, and wait 30 days before throwing the tenant's belongings away. But Oregon law requires landlords to give former tenants only five days from receipt of notice to contact the landlord and arrange removal, or the landlord can throw the tenant's things away.

State law also varies on when and whether you can charge your a tenant for removal and/or storage of the property. Generally, tenants who depart voluntarily have increased protection for any belongings left behind, and you may have to pay to store the items yourself.. You should confirm the requirements in your state before disposing of any property left behind.

Enraged Eviction

On the other hand, landlords often have more leeway when disposing of tenant property if the tenant left on less than peaceful terms. Evictions have their own set of rules and regulations for landlords, and again, state law can vary.

Often, the notice to the tenant and storage requirements are shorter -- some as quick as seven days. And because local sheriffs' offices normally enforce evictions, some states require sheriffs to store and/or dispose of abandoned belongings.

List It in the Lease

Of course, many of these questions can be answered by your lease. Most states will allow you to craft your own terms when it comes to personal property left behind after a tenant leaves, and as long as the terms are fair and the tenant has read and signed the lease, those terms will prevail.

If you need help crafting a lease that addresses abandoned ex-tenant property, or want to know the applicable laws in your state, you can consult with an experienced landlord-tenant attorney near you.

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