Personal property can be left behind for a variety of reasons. The owner usually returns for it, but that’s not always the case. Landlords, agencies, friends and others are often put in a position to figure out what to do with abandoned personal property.
Adherence to property abandonment laws is important, including knowing the time frame in which personal property is considered “abandoned,” and therefore, can be disposed of.
Defining Abandoned Personal Property
Any time an owner of property intentionally gives up the right to control that property, it’s considered abandoned. Varying timelines apply, depending on which state the property is in and, in some cases, the type of personal property that’s involved. Any tangible item, including animals, vehicles, furniture, clothing, jewelry and much more, can be considered personal property.
Landlord Woes When It Comes to Personal Property
Tenants moving out and leaving abandoned personal property behind is a common issue across the nation. Most states allow the landlord to immediately throw away obvious trash that tenants left behind, including paper, cardboard boxes, old food and other items.
- Things of value cannot be disposed of for a mandated time frame in most states, during which time the landlord must make a reasonable effort to notify the tenant of the location of the property and when it must be retrieved.
- Items of value might include furniture, appliances, clothing or sporting equipment. When in doubt; don’t throw it out is a good rule of thumb to follow. An inventory list or photographs of all abandoned items can provide legal protection.
- Landlords should check state law to determine current requirements for notifying previous tenants of their intent to dispose of the property. Some states allow the immediate disposal of any item valued at under a certain dollar amount. Other states require the landlord to store the property for a predetermined time frame before disposal.
- In almost all cases, a reasonable effort must be made to give former tenants a notice to pick up personal property.
Disposing of a tenant’s abandoned personal property before state law allows or without following additional laws can create significant financial liability for the landlord.
Animals and Pets
When it comes to animals, more than 30 states have passed legislation that defines a holding period before the animals can be euthanized, adopted to new homes or sold. Most states require that abandoned animals are housed in a public animal shelter during the holding period, which can run from 48 hours up to seven days, depending on that state’s laws.
- The purpose of the holding period is to give the owner time to return for the animal. A requirement that the animals are held in a publicly accessible shelter is to give the owner the ability to locate the animal prior to its adoption, sale or euthanization.
- Once the animal is in the control of local or state authorities, the clock starts ticking on the required hold time. Various exceptions exist to the law, including severely injured or aggressive animals.
Abandoned animal laws target domestic animals, not livestock or feral animals.
Abandoned Motor Vehicles
Abandoned motor vehicles can be tricky; typically, no paper trail exists to prove that a friend, family member or landlord has permission to sell or dispose of the vehicle. After checking state laws regarding holding periods for an abandoned vehicle, landlords can call the local law enforcement authorities and request assistance or advice in removing it.
Abandoned personal property is not uncommon, and it can be frustrating to deal with. It’s important to comply with the laws of the state in which the property was left behind, including the legal length of time before it’s considered abandoned.
Read More: Tenant Abandoned Car: California Property Law
- NOLO: Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property: An Overview
- 2019 Minnesota Statutes - 504B.271 Tenant's Personal Property Remaining In Premises
- 2019 Minnesota Statutes: 345.75 Abandoned Tangible Personal Property
- NOLO: Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property: Legal Notice Requirements
- NOLO: Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property in California
- Oregon State Bar: When Tenants Leave Belongings Behind
- Michigan State University-Animal Legal and Historical Center: Table of State Holding Laws
- Legal Beagle: The Length of Time Before Personal Property Is Considered Abandoned
- Legal Beagle: How to Handle a Tenant's Abandoned Property in California
- Legal Beagle: Tenant Abandoned Car: California Property Law
- Legal Beagle: What is Tangible Personal Property?
I spent more than a decade sitting in courtooms every day as a court beat journalist. That experience honed my skills to write anything related to the law whether civil, criminal, family or probate court. I took that experience and began shadowing parole and probation officers, police officers and attorneys to increase my level of expertise in the legal writing field. Today, I am a full-time content writer in all things legal.