Tenants are prone to leaving things behind during a move out. More often than not, it’ll be little more than trash and used cleaning supplies, but what is to be done when there’s furniture left behind? If you have new tenants moving in, clearing out the property quickly and entirely is one of your top priorities. How you should handle these items – from furniture to a pile of clothes – all depends on the nature of the items abandoned, the laws of your state, and the circumstances under which the tenant moved out.
For the most part, when your tenants leave behind items after moving out, it generally means they don’t want it anymore and have tacitly given you ownership of it. However, you should only assume this if you’ve been clear and explicit about the stipulations for moving out described in the original lease and expressed your expectations for them to follow it accordingly. You don’t want to dispose of some piece of abandoned property only to receive a phone call from an angry (former) tenant who wants it back. To ensure you’re legally protected, proceed with caution and awareness of the law.
State Laws for Furniture Left Behind
State laws vary on the freedoms granted to landlords in handling furniture left behind. Look up the specific statute for your state. Keep the language of the statute handy and consult it whenever you think an issue might be on the horizon when moving tenants out. For example, in Oregon, a landlord must keep the leftover items for five to eight days, depending on how they notified the former tenant, before they are legally permitted to sell or dispose of the items. If you find the language unclear for your specific situation or you just want to be careful (always a good idea!) then you should consult your local landlord’s association. You are not the first landlord to confront an issue regarding left-behind items, and you won’t be the last. Talking to fellow property managers in the area is more often than not the best way to get appropriate information on how to proceed.
Such laws are also dependent on the nature of the tenant’s departure. When a tenant moves out at the end of a lease or after mutually terminating the lease early, you will have the largest flexibility to handle any furniture left behind as you see fit. However, if a tenant has been evicted or has simply disappeared, then you are often required by law to treat the situation more delicately. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re not sure what legal protections you have, consult your landlord’s association, or even better, consult with a lawyer.
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Abandoned Property You Can Dump
These laws do not, however, apply to all abandoned property. If materials left behind are obvious trash, then you’re free to dispose of them immediately, especially if perishable items are involved. On the other side of things, fixtures are objects that are installed in the house and can be considered permanent additions that are now part of the property. Whether you like the new bookshelf someone has installed or think it messes with the Feng Shui of the study room, you have greater freedoms in exercising a decision to remove it if you wish.
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As in most situations, the key to avoiding any potentially fraught situations when it comes to furniture left behind by your tenants, is a simple and clear lease agreement and effective tenant communication. A little bit of effort can go a long way!