The Letter Of The Law Regarding Tenants’ Personal Property

The Letter Of The Law Regarding Tenants’ Personal Property

Having an occupied rental property is often a fantastic source of income, particularly in California where the demand for rentals has driven the value of rental properties to never before seen heights. However, having tenants isn’t a stress-free source of revenue generation. Too often, landlords run into tenants who refuse to follow the rules, who never seen pay rent, and who destroy the rental property.

It’s not unusual for a landlord to go to a rental property after tenants have moved and found that the tenant left a great deal of stuff behind. In most cases, it’s nothing more than garbage, but sometimes they forget to take something that has either financial or emotional value. This puts landlords in a bind as they try what they should do about the forgotten property.

Different Rules for Different Types of Property

The type of property that the tenants left behind has a huge impact on what the landlord can and can’t do with it. If the equipment is obviously trash, such as paper products, broken appliances, badly damaged furniture, etc. The landlord is well within their rights to throw it in the trash or haul it to the nearest dump.

However, if the property has some type of monetary value, things get complicated. Taking a thing like bikes, furniture, appliances that belonged to the tenants and not the landlord, video games, and toys to the dump without first going through California’s legal process can get a landlord in serious trouble.

It’s important to note that two items that result in landlord getting into hot water are the destruction of photographs which have a sentimental value, and medication which has its own set of rules.

First Determine if the Property is Actually Abandoned

California law is pretty clear that before you can go through your rental property and start shifting through the items your previous tenants left behind, you have to prove that the tenants have in fact abandoned the property. The good news is that this generally isn’t too difficult to do.

Methods of showing that a tenant has moved on include:

  • A formal eviction (make sure the date of the eviction order has already passed)
  • A lease agreement with a clear end date
  • A formal termination of a lease

If all signs indicate that the tenant has moved on and simply left their property behind, you’re within your rights to start exploring your disposal options. Most landlords like to wait a few days after the lease has been terminated, just in case the tenants try to come back for their items. The short wait helps get the courts on their side if a legal dispute comes up.

Steps for Dealing with Abandoned Property

Even though you may be confident that the tenants left property behind, California still requires landlords to jump through a few hoops before you’re allowed to either trash or sell the abandoned items.

Before you can dispose of the property you must:

  • Create a detailed inventory of the property (it’s not a bad idea to take a photo of each item)
  • Store the property in a safe location

Notify the former tenants that you have their property (If you can’t find the tenants, you’ll need to be able to show the court that you attempted to track them down) California has created some good templates that you’re free to use when you contact your previous tenants. You can find those templates here.

The good news is that you’re not expected to store the abandoned property on your own dime. California law allows you to charge a reasonable rate for the storage.

If the tenant doesn’t respond to your request for them to pick up the property, you’re free to hold a public auction to sell the items. You must make a public notice about the sale a full five days before the auction takes place, during which time California says the tenant is allowed to request a return of the items.

After the public auction, you’re allowed to use the proceeds of the sale to cover the cost of storing the property and of running the auction, however if there is any money left over, you’re required to hand the surplus to the Treasury of the Court.

Failure to turn over the extra money can result in legal action being taken against you.