What happens to a tenant’s belongings after an eviction? Depending on the state where the eviction took place, they could be held in a storage facility, sold, donated, thrown away, or placed outside the rental unit, among other options detailed below.
Table of Contents:
- Evicted or Abandoned – Some states have different rules depending on whether the tenant abandoned the rental unit or was evicted.
- Give the Tenant Notice – Landlords may be required to give their tenants written notice that items have been left behind.
- Store the Tenant’s Belongings – Some states require landlords to store items left by the tenant for a certain period of time before disposal.
- Dispose of the Tenant’s Belongings – Once the deadline has passed, landlords may sell, keep, or destroy any items left behind, depending on the state.
Eviction vs. Abandonment
In many states, how landlords can dispose of belongings left behind by a tenant depends on whether the tenant was evicted or whether they abandoned the rental unit. We look at the differences between the two below.
In most states, abandonment occurs when a tenant leaves the rental unit for a long period of time without giving prior notice to the landlord. The length of time a tenant must be gone from the rental unit for it to count as abandonment varies from state to state.
Often, landlords have more freedom when disposing of belongings left behind in an “abandoned” rental unit than they do for belongings remaining in a rental unit after an eviction.
Typically, an eviction occurs after a tenant has received written notice to move out of the rental unit, stop any activity violating the lease/rental agreement, or pay past-due rent within a certain period of time. This can also apply to removing a squatter.
If the tenant fails to comply within the deadline given on the notice, landlords can file an eviction action with the appropriate court, the judicial officer rules to formally evict the tenant from the property, and an eviction order is issued that allows the tenant, and their belongings, to be physically removed from the rental unit.
This article only addresses what to do with belongings left behind by tenants who have been evicted from the rental unit.
Giving the Tenant Notice
Many states require landlords to give their tenants written notice to pick up their belongings before they can be sold or disposed of. Even if this isn’t a requirement in your state, it’s still a good idea to give your former tenant the ability to pick up their things by a certain deadline.
Generally, the notice should include:
- A description of each of the items left behind (if required)
- How much time the tenant has to pick up their belongings before they’ll be put in storage and/or disposed of (as determined by your state’s laws)
- Where the tenant can pick up their items
- Whether the tenant is liable for storage costs (depending on your state’s laws)
The amount of time required in the notice varies from state to state. In Alaska, for instance, evicted tenants are given 15 days to retrieve their belongings from the rental unit before they’re disposed of.
You’ll also want to make sure you serve the notice correctly.
Serving the Notice
Some states, like California, have very detailed instructions on how a notice regarding property left at the rental unit needs to be delivered to the tenant.
It’s important to understand what methods are acceptable so the tenant can’t claim that you improperly disposed of or sold their property.
Depending on the state, the following methods could be acceptable:
- Hand-delivery to the tenant
- Certified/registered mail
- Posting in a conspicuous place at the rental unit
Note that some states may allow other methods not included here, while others only allow a notice to be posted if there is no one at the rental unit or if other specific circumstances apply.
Storing the Tenant’s Belongings
In many states, such as Arkansas , landlords are required to store whatever may have been left behind at the rental unit until it can be retrieved by the tenant, or until a retrieval deadline has passed.
Some states allow landlords to store tenant belongings at the rental unit, while others require landlords to store them off-site in a secure location, which could be the landlord’s garage, attic, or something similar, or an actual storage facility, depending on the state.
Some states let the landlord choose whether to keep the items at the rental unit or store them elsewhere.
The following states don’t give landlords the option to store tenant belongings at the rental unit and require off-site storage:
Tenants may be required to pay for any storage charges incurred by the landlord, depending on the state.
In most states, landlords may only dispose of a tenant’s items once the retrieval deadline has passed and the tenant has failed to pick up the items they left behind.
Disposing of the Tenant’s Belongings
If the tenant didn’t retrieve their belongings within the deadline set in the notice, OR if your state doesn’t require any written notice, then landlords may have several options for disposing of the tenant’s belongings.
- Selling the items
- Keeping the items/giving them to friends or family
- Throwing away the items
- Leaving the tenant’s items on the rental grounds or other property
- Donating the items
Sell the Tenant’s Belongings
In some states, landlords are allowed to sell belongings the tenant left behind in order to recover their court costs for filing and pursuing the eviction case.
In other states, a tenant’s belongings can be sold to pay off any past-due rent or other debts the tenant owes the landlord, such as costs to repair property damage caused by the tenant.
Finally, some states allow any leftover proceeds to be returned to the tenant. If the tenant cannot be found, then the proceeds may be sent to the town’s or state’s treasury as unclaimed funds , depending on the state.
In some states, such as Arizona, tenant belongings may only be sold at a public auction.
Check with your state’s laws to find out when and how you can sell belongings left behind by a tenant, and what the landlord’s allowed to do with the money received from the sale.
Vehicles and boats. Large items, such as cars and boats, are often treated differently than smaller items left inside the rental unit or in the yard/grounds. In some states, vehicles, boats, trailers, etc., must be reported to the police as abandoned property and dealt with by law enforcement.
Keep the Tenant’s Belongings
The landlord may be allowed to keep a tenant’s belongings if the combined total value of all the items left behind falls below a certain dollar amount (such as less than $700 in California).
Keep in mind, the threshold doesn’t apply to a single item, but to all the items left behind. For instance, a California landlord wouldn’t be able to keep a $350 bicycle if the combined value of all the items left behind by the tenant was more than $700.
Throw the Tenant’s Belongings Away
Some states allow landlords to destroy or throw away anything the tenant left behind that appears to be junk, trash, or of little value. Often, the sum total of everything left behind must fall below a certain dollar amount as set by state law.
Donate the Tenant’s Belongings
In a handful of states, landlords have the option to donate the tenant’s belongings to a charitable organization, as long as the organization meets the guidelines laid out in state law (if any).
For example, the organization may need to be one that provides clothing or household goods to underprivileged families. Check the laws in your state to ensure you’re giving to an allowable charity if you choose to donate the tenant’s belongings.
Leave the Tenant’s Belongings on Rental Grounds / Other Property
A few states, such as Florida, require the landlord to move the tenant’s belongings outside to the property line, to another part of the rental property, to another property owned by the landlord, or to public property.
In these states, the items are typically left outside, and landlords are NOT required to store, maintain, or protect the tenant’s belongings, meaning that if the items get stolen, vandalized, or damaged by the weather, the landlord isn’t responsible.
Landlord liability. In a few states, landlords have zero liability for anything that happens to a tenant’s belongings once the tenant has been evicted, and can do whatever they want with the tenant’s belongings without having to give the tenant written notice beforehand.
State-by-State Disposition Laws
The chart below breaks down the acceptable methods for disposing of a tenant’s belongings left behind after an eviction in each state, and how much time, if any, a tenant has to retrieve their belongings before they can be disposed of.
|State||Acceptable Method(s) of Disposal||Retrieval Deadline|
|Alaska||1) Sale at public auction
2) Thrown away
|Arizona||Sale at public auction (unpaid rent only)|
|California||1) Sale at public auction
2) Destroyed if total value of items is less than $700 OR
3) Kept by landlord if total value of items is less than $700
|Colorado||Landlord may do anything with tenant’s property without liability|
|Connecticut||Sale at public auction||15 days|
|Delaware||Disposal method not specified in statute||7 days|
|Florida||Left at/near the property line|
|Georgia||Left on the rental property (or another property the landlord has access to)|
2) Donated to charitable organization
|Idaho||Disposal method not specified in statute||72 hours|
|Louisiana||Disposal method not specified in statute|
|Maine||1) Thrown away (no market value)
|48 hours or 7 days|
|Maryland||Disposal method not specified in statute|
|Massachusetts||1) Animals must be reported to appropriate authorities for removal
2) Sale by the storage facility
|Michigan||1) Property must be left in a public area or public-right-of-way OR
2) Property must be held by sheriff
|Minnesota||Public sale||60 days|
|Mississippi||Disposal method not specified in statute|
|Missouri||Disposal method not specified in statute|
|Montana||1) Thrown away (valueless, hazardous, perishable)
|Nebraska||1) Public sale (value over $2,000)
2) Private sale (value less than $2,000)
3) Kept or destroyed (value less than $2,000)
|Nevada||Disposal method not specified in statute||44 days|
|New York||Companion animals must be reported to appropriate authorities for removal|
|North Carolina||1) Donated to charitable organization
3) Thrown away (value less than $500)
|7 or 30 days|
|Ohio||Only addresses tenant belongings remaining in mobile homes, recreational vehicles, or manufactured homes.|
|Oklahoma||1) Destroyed (no value)
2) Disposed of in a “reasonable and proper” manner if belongings have value
2) Donated to charitable organization
3) Thrown away
4) Given to landlord’s family/friends
5) Animals must be reported to appropriate authorities for removal
|5,8, or 45 days|
|Pennsylvania||Disposal method not specified in statute||10 days|
|Rhode Island||Disposal method not specified in statute|
|South Carolina||1) Left along public street/highway
2) Thrown away by landlord
|Tennessee||Thrown away||48 hours|
|Texas||1) Left outside the rental unit (on rental grounds)
2) Thrown away
3) Sold by storage facility
|“reasonable” period or 30 days|
|Utah||1) Public sale
2) Donated to charitable organization
|Vermont||Disposal method not specified in statute|
|Virginia||Disposed of in any way the landlord “sees fit or appropriate”||24 hours|
2) Thrown away
|7 or 30 days|
|West Virginia||Disposal method not specified in statute||30 days|
|Wisconsin||Disposed of in any way the landlord deems “appropriate”|
|Wyoming||Disposal method not specified in statute||7 days|
|Washington, D.C.||Disposal method not specified in statute|
Montana. Landlords may only use the disposal methods listed above if the lease has been terminated, but there was no court order to remove the tenant. For example, a tenant could have received an eviction notice and moved out before the landlord filed a court action, leaving personal items behind.
If your state isn’t listed, that means tenant belongings were not addressed in the landlord-tenant or eviction statutes, and you may want to seek legal counsel before removing any tenant items from the rental unit.
Know Your Responsibilities
Remember, just because your tenant left items behind in the rental unit after being evicted, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with them.
Depending on the state, you may be required to give written notice to the tenant before disposing of any items, but then you’re free to do one (or more) of the following:
- Throw away trash, junk, or items of little or no value.
- Sell the tenant’s belongings (at a public or private sale).
- Leave the items on the rental grounds or another property you have access to.
- Keep the items for yourself or give them away to family or friends.
- Donate the items to a charitable organization.