Home » Ask the County Law Librarian – Property left behind by former tenant

Ask the County Law Librarian – Property left behind by former tenant

I am sort of a new landlord, but I have a situation and I don’t know what to do. My tenant gave a proper notice that they were leaving the property. After they left, I found a box that they left in the closet. It looks like knickknacks and dishes. I tried to contact them with the information that was on their rental application, but the numbers are disconnected. What can I do with their stuff??? I want to throw it in the garbage, but I don’t want to get in trouble.

Thank you for your question. Often a tenant will vacate premises and leave a few things behind, sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose. Landlords do have a legal responsibility for the handling, storing, and disposing of personal property left behind. Removing obvious trash is normally not a problem, but even then you need to be certain it is indeed trash, and not something that potentially has value.
According to “The California Landlords Law Book” published by Nolo Press, the first thing to do would be to try to contact the tenant. Since you have already attempted that, the next steps would be to:

  • Take an inventory of the abandoned property and write down a list of everything you find. For this step, it may be good to have an objective witness.
  • Decide the value of the property. A good technique is to decide what you could get for it at a garage sale.
  • Send the tenant a Notice of Right to Claim Abandoned Property. You cannot legally dispose of the property until the notice is sent. (California Civil Code §1980-1991)

Mail the notice to the tenants last known address, which in this case, is the rental property address. If the tenant left a forwarding address with the post office, it will make it to the tenant. If the tenant contacts you within 18 days of mailing the notice, then give them back their property. If they do not contact you, how you dispose of the property depends on the value of the property.

According to California Civil Code §1988, if the property is worth less than $700.00, and 18 days has passed since you mailed the Notice of Right to Claim Abandoned Property, you may keep, sell, give away, or discard the property. If the property is worth more than $700.00, the process gets more complicated, because the property must be sold at a public auction. If this is your situation, you may consider hiring an attorney or other professional to assist you in the matter. For additional information, the California Department of Consumer Affairs has an excellent legal guide that covers these topics in-depth.

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email [email protected]. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian

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