What do you do if you find that a tenant who has moved out has left some things behind in your rental property? Should you toss the items out, or are you obligated to return them? How long could you be responsible for holding onto your former tenant’s possessions?
These are common questions that first time landlords have in particular. Abandoned possessions are a fairly common situation. How you approach them legally depends on local legislation. This article will give you a solid overview of how to approach items your tenants have left behind.
Here are the steps involved in handling former tenants’ possessions.
Learning the Abandoned Possession Laws in Texas
In the state of Texas, a 60-day collection period is provided to the tenants once they are given notice. Beyond that, landlord are free to dispose of the abandoned possessions.
Determining Why a Tenant Left
How you handle tenant possessions will depend on the circumstances of their departure. You’ll have more flexibility if a tenant’s occupancy ended naturally, such as at the end of a lease. In this case, there will be little ambiguity, and you can act in accordance with the terms set out in the lease.
However, if a tenant is evicted, it’s more important to be careful in how you handle their abandoned possessions, as legal processes may be on the way.
If a tenant disappears without notice, you’ll also have to be mindful of how you handle their possessions as they may still have the rights to their property. In delicate cases like this, you’ll want to be sure to act in strict accordance with Texas’ landlord tenant laws.
Defining Abandoned Possessions
When a tenant leaves your property suddenly without notice, it is defined as abandoning the rental. This kind of sudden turnover is a real pain for landlords because they have to immediately look to fill the unit to avoid missing out on rental income. The addition of items left behind only makes things worse.
If belongings are left behind, these are understood to be abandoned possessions. Abandoned possessions can range from furniture and appliances to junk and debris. However, even if the possessions appear to be junk, you may have to store them for a period. It’s important to know your legal responsibilities to avoid conflict.
Attempting to Contact Tenant
During an inspection of your property if you determine that possessions have been left behind, your first step should be to try to contact the tenant. You may be able to strike a deal with them regarding the future of their abandoned possessions that works for both parties.
In the case of rental abandonment, your former tenants may be difficult to get ahold of. If they’ve broken their lease, they may be unwilling to cooperate because they fear the consequences. However, attempting to communicate with former tenants is a good first step.
Discarding Abandoned Possessions
It’s imperative that you notify the tenant about their abandoned belongings. After a reasonable amount of time if a tenant doesn’t return to pick up the abandoned belongings, you may have the right to sell, discard or give away the items.
If you determine that you’re able to get rid of the items, it can be a good idea to look up their value online rather than immediately throwing items in the trash. Old electronics, books, records, and musical instruments may have unexpected values that could boost your income.
Storing Abandoned Possessions
If your state requires that you hang onto abandoned possessions for a certain duration, you’ll have to decide how to store the possessions securely. If your property remains vacant, you could leave the possessions there, but you’ll likely want to clear the space for incoming tenants.
You can store the possessions in a basement or garage, or you can rent a commercial storage unit. If you have to pay to move and store tenant possessions, write these expenses down. You can charge tenants for these expenses, either through security deposit deductions or payment. You should not have to suffer financially because tenants decided to leave items behind.
Identifying Different Kinds of Possessions
There is a wide array of types of things tenants can leave behind, and you’ll have to use your judgment to categorize what you find. The old saying “one man’s trash is another’s treasure” may apply in this case. You’re within your rights to toss garbage left behind, but make sure it’s really garbage.
If tenants have installed fixtures such as hooks, lights, and bookshelves, these will become your property once tenants leave. It’ll be up to you whether you want to leave them as part of the unit for the next tenant or remove them.
If tenants have installed fixtures that you don’t approve of, you can be reimbursed for removing them. Simply make a reasonable deduction from the damage deposit that accounts for the time and resources that removing the fixtures takes.
Itemizing Abandoned Possessions
The main takeaway from this article should be that it’s important to stay organized and make a paper trail for your handling of tenant possessions. The end of a lease can be a fraught time, and you’ll want to make a record of how you’re handling abandoned possessions.
Take photos of what has been left behind. It may be the case that once tenants realize you have disposed of their old trash, they’ll try to claim what they left behind was valuable in order to be compensated. With photo evidence, you can avoid this kind of revisionist history.
Preventing Abandoned Possessions
You can stay ahead of the game by screening your tenants carefully. Contact tenants’ previous landlords to make sure they have a history of taking their possessions with them and leaving units in great conditions. Property neglect is behaviour that often happens in patterns.
You can also write abandoned property clauses into your leases. Of course, these must be in accordance with Texas’ landlord tenant laws, but stipulating in your leases what is to be done with items left behind can save you a lot of time and effort.
The Bottom Line
In an ideal world, your tenants will act in accordance with their leases and leave your units in the same condition as they were in on move-in. In the real world, it’s fairly common for tenants to leave behind furniture, personal belongings, and even trash.
As such, it’s import to have strategies for getting rid of abandoned possessions in a timely, legal fashion. If you’re looking for help managing your Texas property, the expert team at OmniKey Realty has plenty of experience maximizing the success of our clients’ rental properties. Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you.