If you’ve ever moved, you certainly know how many details there are to keep straight, what with packing and transporting all your household items, clearing out storage facilities and more. A common occurrence during moves is that people leave some type of personal property behind, whether by accident or because they simply don’t want it anymore. When this happens, it becomes “abandoned property” and if you want to get it back, you’ll have to act fast.

Landlords are used to throwing away trash or small items of little or no value when a tenant moves out, but they must handle personal property of value differently. Most will have rules and regulations related to abandoned property written into the lease agreement, but in general they tend to handle things in this way in order to avoid legal disputes:

  1. Take inventory of all the abandoned property and its condition
  2. Store any property that has value
  3. Provide written notice to the tenant that they have 30 days to reclaim the property, with details on where and how to do so, noting that failure to claim it within the designated time period will mean it has been legally abandoned
  4. Make reasonable efforts to ensure the written notice reaches the tenant, trying alternative means such as email when appropriate
  5. Require the tenant to provide reimbursement for costs associated with storage

What if You Don’t Claim Your Property?

Unfortunately, if you fail to claim abandoned property left at a former apartment or rental home, you’ll be at the mercy of the landlord. Most often, they will dispose of the property through sale. This process is governed by law and differs a bit by state, but most landlords are required to sell abandoned property at a public sale. Moreover, they must post notice of the sale in a public place such as a newspaper, and they must also provide one more written notice to the property owner that includes the date, time and location of the sale. If you truly want your property back and it has reached the point of public sale, you may find yourself having to purchase your own items.

Can You Get Cash for Your Sold Property?

If your abandoned property goes up for public sale and you choose not to purchase it yourself, the landlord will use the proceeds to pay off any debts you may have for things like back rent, property damage or storage costs. If there is money left over, the landlord will often keep it for one year in the event you come to collect what is owed to you. There is no guarantee of getting the money from the sale of your property, but suing the landlord in small claims court is an option available to you.

Unclaimed or abandoned property can be difficult to get back, and your timeline for doing so is typically quite short. Be sure to take everything you wish to keep when you move and double-check storage spaces and closets to ensure you aren’t forgetting anything.

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