Most tenants are reasonable people – they’ll keep their space clean, pay their rent on time, and move out without a fuss. But every once in a while, problem tenants show up. They may be late on rent (a problem we can help with). They may be noisy or rude. And, in some very irritating cases, they may abandon their unit – with all of their belongings still inside!

What do you do when a tenant leaves junk behind? This brief article will walk you through your legal obligations for abandoned property, as well as the most efficient ways of clearing out a unit so a new tenant can move in. We’ll start by talking about the legal obligations you have, then move on to the practical steps you can take to clean.

Legal obligations vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so it’s a good idea to contact the tenancy branch in your area and determine what your obligations are. You can also talk to your lawyer to determine your legal obligations.

That said, you’ll almost certainly have some obligation to hold some of your former tenant’s items for safekeeping. There is the possibility of compensation for the costs of storage, which we’ll discuss later.

How a tenant’s lease was ended is relevant

It’s important to note that most jurisdictions will handle abandoned belongings differently depending on how the tenant’s lease was ended. If a tenant was evicted, for example, there may be more stringent rules surrounding how their items must be handled. The same is true if a tenant disappeared – which we’ll discuss in greater detail soon. Most jurisdictions allow for more flexibility when the lease ends naturally, and the tenant moves out. 

The types of items left behind matter, too

Did your tenant leave behind hordes of garbage? The good, if unpleasant, news is that you can just throw garbage out in almost all cases – no need to consult the tenant. 

Permanent fixtures become a part of the unit in most places – you can opt to keep them, or you can dispose of them.

Furniture and personal property generally need to be stored, and the tenant needs to be contacted. There’s usually a timeframe in which the tenant can reply and pick up their personal belongings. How long they have to pick up their belongings varies in different cities – it can also vary based on the type of item it is. Smaller items usually have a smaller time frame in which they need to be returned. The timeframe for larger items, like furniture, can usually be negotiated between you and the tenant.

Finally, motor vehicles almost always need to be discussed with local law enforcement. The rules surrounding motor vehicles differ from other abandoned property. 

How to remove abandoned property from a unit

Take stock of what’s in the unit

The first step in getting rid of your old tenant’s junk is making an inventory of all the items in the room. You’ll be able to send that inventory to your tenant should you need to. 

Start by throwing away all the trash – you don’t need to inventory that. Then, you can make an inventory using pen and paper, or you can download one of many inventory taking apps and use that.

Store your former tenant’s items

Most jurisdictions don’t have strict rules as to where you have to store your tenant’s items – as long as you store them in a safe place. If you don’t have a new tenant slated for the unit in the near future, the unit itself can work as a temporary storage facility.

If you do have tenants slated to move in, however, your next steps will depend on your timeframe. You can get rid of junk very quickly – we recommend this guide to junk removal for advice on efficient removal. If a tenant is moving in the very next day, it’s a good idea to hire a professional junk removal service – get them to store furniture and other items in a storage unit.

When you have more time, you can choose to work a little more slowly, and you might not need to hire professionals. This is in some ways the best-case scenario, but it can mean going a month without rent, which is never ideal. It’s usually best to store your old tenant’s items as quickly as possible.

Returning your tenant’s property

Should your tenant elect to pick up their abandoned property, you can, in most cases, bill them for costs incurred in the moving and storage of their items. Exactly what you can bill the tenant for varies from place to place, but you should get most (if not all) of your money back.

Dealing with abandoned property

In most cases, after a certain amount of time, the abandoned property becomes yours. You can do a lot with it – throw it in the trash, donate it, and even sell it. Our friends up north at Globe Property Management have an interesting suggestion: if the furniture your former tenant abandoned looks good in the unit, keep it. You can use the furniture elsewhere or rent the unit as a furnished unit for a premium.

We hope this article has helped you better understand the complexities inherent in dealing with items abandoned by tenants. Want to avoid these problems in the future? Include terms in the lease that stipulate what happens when items are abandoned.

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