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What to Do with What’s Left Behind

June 19th, 2015 garnerproperties
Abandoned Couch

At the end of the lease – or sometimes, in the unfortunate case of an eviction – tenants may leave behind belongings. Whether intentionally done or unintentionally forgotten, there are a number of specific protocols that must be followed to ensure compliance with the requirements of the law. Here’s a review of the legal requirements for owners and landlords for dealing with property left behind.

Please note: This is only a cursory overview for your information. Specific situations and individual circumstances may require a different course of action. Before making any decisions about how to handle tenant property, we highly recommend consulting or conferring with legal counsel to explain your situation and ensure that you have followed all aspects of the law as may be required.

Detroit area

Abandoned FurnitureAbandoned property

In situations where a tenant has vacated the premises and left behind personal belongings, like couches or other furnishings, there is no current law governing the process of handling a renter’s items. Unlike many states, Michigan does not proscribe any specific requirement for owners to abide by when handling abandoned items. When there are items that may be of value or have potential to be resold or repurposed, owners or landlords are fully within their rights to sell or keep those items. A landlord may also store items of value at their discretion, with the tenant(s) to be responsible for any costs incurred for storage, removal and labor.

Eviction NoticeEvictions

Just as Michigan law offers no formal process for abandoned property, it is equally absent in terms of property left behind during an eviction. In this situation as well, it is at the owner’s discretion to move, store, sell or dispose of items at their discretion. The Law Offices of Aaron D. Cox, the general counsel used by Garner Properties & Management, recently discussed this issue in a blog post, recommending that landlords include a clause in their lease agreements to cover the potential situation of an eviction. The lease should clearly state how a landlord will treat abandoned or leftover property, outline how notice will be provided and where it will be stored (if it will), and setting the timetable of determining when property is considered to be abandoned.

Indianapolis area

Abandoned property

In Indiana, the law is far more clearly defined than in Michigan. When it comes to abandoned property in Indiana, the state’s statute reads that property is “considered abandoned if a reasonable person would conclude that the tenant has vacated the premises and has surrendered possession of the personal property” (IC 32-31-4-2). The law also states that that definition of abandonment cannot be changed through a written or oral agreement. This leaves some vagueness in terms of what a “reasonable person” would consider as abandoned, however, though it is safe to assume that abandonment occurs at the end of a tenant’s term.

Abandoned CouchIf you believe the tenant may have left property behind accidentally, the best course of action would be to contact them to confirm whether items are truly abandoned. In addition, if you believe a property has been vacated without notice during the term of a lease, you should follow eviction procedures for nonpayment and not consider the property to be abandoned in the same sense.

Evictions

If you have successfully received a court-ordered eviction, the process is a bit different. Items belonging to an evicted tenant must be stored by either a “warehouseman or storage facility” if they are not removed by the tenant before the date of the eviction order. This storage must be at a location where a tenant can go on their own to retrieve their belongings. In these circumstances, you must serve the tenant with notice that includes both your order for personal property removal as well as the information on where the items are stored. There are also a series of exempted property that tenants are able to retrieve, even during eviction proceedings. These include any medically necessary items, items used in the tenant’s business or trade, and a week’s supply of seasonal clothing, blankets or schooling and care items for minors.

However, the law does not provide a clear means for owners to recoup their expenses from moving belongings to a storage facility. While the statute lists that the warehouseman or storage facility retains a lien on all stored items and gives them the right to sell items following 90 days, there is no consideration given to the property owner’s costs. Nolo.com suggests that landlords in these situations may be best suited to pursuing a claim in small claims court.

Regardless of your situation or state, be sure that you’re confident before you take any action to protect yourself from any counterclaims or legal action against you. At Garner Properties, we offer comprehensive management services, including handling of any eviction proceedings, legal paperwork and court appearances, as well as collection processes that may be required. Contact us today and find out what else we can do for you and your home or properties.

Written by garnerproperties

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