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Do You Follow These 4 Steps When Dealing with a Tenant’s Abandoned Property?

I received a call the other day from a landlord whose tenant hadn’t paid the rent.  When he went to check on the property it looked as though it had been abandoned.  The electricity was turned off and what was left in the place was strewn about as if by someone who had left in a hurry.  There were old dirty dishes in the sink and the odor was definitely not what you would hope for in a property you own.

After checking around to make sure there were no bodies (thankfully not, although as a landlord tenant attorney who also practices criminal law, I would certainly be prepared to help with that scenario!), the landlord concluded that his property had been abandoned.  Or had it?

Here are the 4 steps to follow when you think your tenant has abandoned your rental property:

Make Sure the Property Is Abandoned

It’s possible that your tenant has not actually abandoned their belongings. To determine whether the personal property is now yours to deal with, you should consider the status of the rental agreement (has it expired?) and whether the tenant has actually moved out. If either of these scenarios is the case, you can treat any belongings left behind as if they are abandoned.

Try to Contact the Tenant

Once you have decided that the items left behind are abandoned, you need to attempt to contact your former tenant about your intentions to dispose of their belongings if they don’t pick them up. Take a moment to inventory anything left in your rental unit. When you have inventoried and secured the property in a safe location (keeping it in the rental unit is fine if it is secure), let the former tenant know where to pick up their belongings. You must include these details in your message:

  • A description of each item
  • The location of the property
  • A deadline to pick up the abandoned property
  • Details about storage costs that the tenant must pay before claiming the property
  • Notice that the property will be sold or disposed of if not claimed by date above

Contact HLF Real Estate Law if you need help with a letter that you can use when notifying your tenant that is compliant with The Florida Statutes.

Dispose of the Property

After attempting to contact the tenant, if the property remains unclaimed, you can dispose of it. Property worth $500 or more must be sold at public auction. As the landlord, you must advertise the sale of the property—either by placing an ad in the local newspaper once a week at least two weeks before the auction or by posting notices around the neighborhood where the auction will be held at least ten days prior to the auction. The tenant can legally claim the property up until the time of the auction, though they must now pay for the storage costs and the costs of preparing for the sale.

Once the sale is complete, you can use the proceeds to pay for the cost of storage and preparing for the auction. If there is any money remaining, you must submit it to the treasury of the county where the sale happened. If the property is worth less than $500, you can use it or dispose of it as you see fit.

Read Your Contract or Lease Agreement

Make sure that you follow the time limits set not only by the state but by the terms of your lease agreement, as well. The state requires that you give the tenant at least ten days to pick up the property, and you cannot decrease that time frame. However, your lease may increase the time allowed the tenant. To avoid a legal contest, be sure to follow what your lease states.

If you have any questions regarding abandoned property and how to make sure you are following the law in disposing of it, contact an attorney. The real estate experts at HLF Real Estate Law will help keep you protected from any legal action regarding abandoned property. Call today.