It happens from time to time that a tenant who has vacated premises may leave behind some personal property. It may be good stuff or it may be junk -- much of which is no doubt determined by the eyes of the beholder. Moreover, some or all of the stuff left behind may not even belong to the tenant. In some cases the landlord may know this; in others, not.
In such circumstances, what is a landlord to do? The landlord's options and obligations will vary from state to state. In California, as you might have guessed, it can be a bit complicated. Fortunately, the legal department of the California Association of REALTORS® (CAR) has recently released a memorandum dealing with these situations. While the memo doesn't uncomplicate the landlord's rights and duties, at least it provides some guidelines for complying with the relevant laws. Moreover, if a landlord does follow these procedures, he will be released from liability for having disposed of the tenant's property.
First of all, if the tenant has left personal property on the premises, the landlord should provide the tenant with written notice regarding the disposition of the property. The notice can be delivered in person, by mail, or by e-mail. The main issue is: the landlord must make a good-faith effort to provide the notice.
Secondly, if the landlord has reason to believe that some or all of the remaining personal property belongs to someone other than the tenant (e.g. a friend's surfboard), then the landlord must also make a good-faith effort to provide that person with written notice.
The notice must include:
- A description of the property which is sufficiently clear to permit the owner of the property to identify it;
- The place where the property may be claimed;
- A statement to the owner that reasonable storage costs may be charged before the property is returned. However, the notice must also state that if the tenant claims the property in a time period of not less than two days after the tenant vacated, the tenant may minimize the costs of storage;
- The date by which the claim must be made (cannot be less than 15 days from delivery of the notice, or 18 days from the time it was mailed);
- In addition to these items, the notice should also contain a description of what will happen if the property is unclaimed.
If the property is believed to be worth more than $700, the notice should include the fact that the property will be sold at public auction. After the costs of sale are deducted, any remainder will go to the county, and may be claimed for up to one year.
If the property is believed to be worth less than $700, the notice need only state this fact and that the property may be kept, sold, or destroyed without further warning to the owner if it is not claimed within the time period listed in the notice.
The foregoing is a brief summary of salient points, and is not fully descriptive. But there's good news for landlords and/or property managers facing such a situation. Sample forms, with all the details, are contained in the California Civil Code at Sections 1983-85. One could just copy them from there. (Moreover, CAR members can obtain them through the zipforms letters library.)
This article probably raises more questions than it provides answers. But there is not sufficient space to cover all the likely questions. Better to contact me and ask for a copy of the memorandum.
Be careful out there.