What to Do If Former Tenants Leave Belongings at the Property

Tenant turnover is an important part of managing a rental property. When one tenant leaves, the landlord or their property manager must prepare the home to get back on the market and welcome new tenants. This usually involves a deep cleaning, repainting, annual maintenance, and a few routine repairs. But what do you do if your previous tenants leave items behind?

Left-behind items become a final matter to be resolved between the landlord and former tenant. Fortunately, there are a few best-practices that make this process easy to navigate to everyone’s satisfaction.


Know Your State Laws

First, make sure you are familiar with the state laws regarding left-behind property. Some states have very specific procedures you should go through, such as how you should hold the property and the correct channels or timeline to alert the former tenants. You may also be in a state where there is no requirement, and it is entirely up to you on how to deal with the left behind property.


Determine If “Trash or Treasure”

The first step is to determine if the left behind property was discarded as trash or is forgotten treasure. There’s a big difference between a broken bookshelf chair left in the garage and a backpack of keepsakes in the top shelf of a closet. Do your best to determine if the property is trash your tenants meant to leave behind (but perhaps did not have time to put out on trash bulk day) vs property they will want back that holds monetary or personal value.

One stray sock is not a big deal, but a wrapped dress is probably a treasure. Use your best judgment.


Photograph, Then Store the Property

If you determine that the property is likely valuable, photograph it in place – where you discovered it or nearby where you unearthed it from a hidden storage location. You will send these photos to your former tenant to let them know about the forgotten property.

From there, respectfully pack away the items and store them out of the way where they will not be disturbed or damaged. This could be a sealed box in the attic or, for larger left-behind property, you might rent a temporary storage locker.


Alert Former Tenants of Their Left-Behind Property

You will need to contact tenants to return their security deposit – or the itemized list justifying denial. In this process, include photos and a list of the left-behind property with a letter asking the tenant if they want to collect the items or if it’s okay to dispose of them. If you have a working phone number, you can call, but it’s also best to leave a paper trail via email or certified mail, as well.

The tenant may then be grateful that you saved something precious, confused because they forgot they even owned the lost items, or dismissive because they consider the left-behind items to be trash.


Give Tenants a Time Limit to Collect The Items

If your tenants indicate that they want the property back – or they do not respond at all – hold the property for a set amount of time. The usual interval is one to three months. Let your tenant know that the property will be disposed of if they do not collect it before this point. Give your former tenants the option to pay for shipping, pick it up personally, or send a friend in town to pick it up.


Charge Shipping or Disposal to the Security Deposit

If the tenant requests shipping, you can charge it to their security deposit as part of the clean-up fee. The same is true for any cost you incur storing the items or disposing of them. This is one of those things that the security deposit is designed to smooth over at the end of the tenant-landlord relationship.


Include Your Policy in the Lease and Security Deposit Terms

Finally, make sure that your left-behind property policy is included in the initial lease and is a clear part of security deposit terms. This acts as your legal protection and ensures tenants have a chance to know what will happen if they leave personal property behind.


Handle Tenant Turnover Easily with Leaf Management

Some landlords enjoy the turnover process. But if handling typical situations like left-behind property is a hassle, a property management team can make being a landlord worlds easier. At Leaf Management, we can ensure that your lease terms include important terms like how left-behind property is handled and we will always take care of the intricacies of the turnover process on your behalf. Contact us today to learn more about good rental property policies and how a property manager can help.