Abandoned Property Laws and Forms

Abandoned property laws vary from state to state. View laws for your state as they relate to self-storage facilities. Please check the official statutes for the latest updates.


Abandoned Property - What Can You Do With It?

In generic terms, abandonment of property is the relinquishment of possession and rights over a property. It can result from the non-use of property for a long time. Property as defined in the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act includes tangible property, as well as certain interest in intangible property. Abandoned property is property, the rights and possession over which an owner intentionally and voluntarily relinquishes. A presumption of abandonment may be made from lapse of time and non- use of the property.

However, in the legal sense, abandonment of property occurs only when relinquishment of possession and rights over a property is coupled with an intention to abandon the property. That is to say, mere non- use of property and lapse of time without claiming or using property does not alone constitute abandonment. It must be accompanied by an intention to abandon the property.

Interestingly, the rules regarding abandonment of personal property and real property are distinct. Personal possessions may be abandoned by an owner with the intention of relinquishing title and ownership. Thus, title to personal property is lost by abandonment. On the contrary, title to real property is not lost by abandonment. The laws on abandoned property state that if the real property owner possesses a perfect legal title, it is not affected by abandonment of that property.

Abandoned property law also talks about abandonment of personal property in the context of a landlord-tenant relationship. Personal possessions left behind by a tenant or renter intentionally and permanently in a rental unit after the tenant has moved out is abandoned property. However, a landlord is duty-bound to take care of it and take steps to try to return it to the tenant. This is what the law requires a landlord to do in such a circumstance:

  • When a tenant has vacated a rental unit leaving behind some personal property, the landlord must store the property safely. The landlord must make arrangement for the storage of the property in a storage unit or at the rental unit at the convenience of the landlord.
  • When there is abandoned personal property left by former tenant or tenants in rented premises, landlord must send a notice to those former tenant or tenants or to any other person who the landlord believes may be the owner of the abandoned properties. The notice must contain the name and address of the tenant, and a description of the personal property that has been abandoned in the rented premises vacated by the tenant. The notice must also specify the place from where the tenant can claim the abandoned personal property and the time frame within which the tenant should collect the abandoned property.
  • If the property is not claimed by anyone within a certain number of days after the notice to the former tenant, the landlord may take possession.
  • Abandoned property law allows the landlord to sell the abandoned property. A landlord may dispose of the property left behind.

To dispose of the property left behind, a landlord must follow a certain procedure: The landlord must prepare an abandoned property list and send a notice to the tenant or to any other person whom the landlord has a reason to believe may be the owner of the abandoned properties. The landlord may also charge the tenant reasonable costs for storing tenant's property. If the tenant claims the property and pays reasonable costs to the landlord for storing the property, the property should be returned to the tenant. After the property is returned to the former tenant, then the landlord is no longer responsible for that property.

Landlord and tenant law also entitles a property owner to enter upon abandoned property for making necessary repairs. However, when a landlord re-enters abandoned premises in order to make repairs, it does not constitute an acceptance of the abandoned premises. The abandoning tenant is still responsible for the value of the rent.

Can non-use of property be presumed to be abandonment?

Yes, abandonment can result from non-use of property for a long time. Laws relating to abandoned property stipulate that abandonment of property occurs only when possession and rights over a property are surrendered with an intention to abandon the property.

Is title to real property lost by abandonment?

The laws on abandoned property vary from state to state. Personal property may be abandoned by an owner with the intention of giving up title and ownership. However, title to real property is not lost by abandonment. When a real property owner possesses a perfect legal title, abandonment of that property does not affect the owner's title over the property.

What do I do with property my tenant left behind?

Yes, as a landlord, you have a duty to safe guard property left behind by a tenant or renter intentionally and permanently in the rental unit after the tenant has moved out. The abandoned property left behind must be returned to the tenant if s/he demands. If a landlord wrongly considers the tenant's personal possessions to be abandoned and removes the property, the landlord will be liable for property the tenant lost.

What steps do I take when a tenant leaves abandoned property?

When a tenant leaves behind abandoned personal property in the rented premises, a landlord is bound to store the property safely. You have to take the following steps:

  • Prepare an abandoned property list.
  • Make arrangements for storage of the tenant's property in a storage unit or at the rental unit itself at your convenience.
  • After a reasonable period, you as a landlord must send a notice to those former tenant or tenants or to any other person who you believe may be the owner of the abandoned property. The notice must be delivered to the tenant at his/her last known address.
  • If the property is not claimed by anyone within certain days after the notice, you may take possession or re-enter and resume the beneficial use and enjoyment of the property.

What are the contents of the notice to be sent to the tenant?

The notice must contain:

  • The name and address of the tenant.
  • A description of the personal property that has been abandoned in the rented premises vacated by the tenant.
  • The place from where the tenant can claim the abandoned personal property.
  • The time frame within which the tenant should collect the abandoned property.

The tenant should deposit any additional costs incurred by the landlord, such as storage costs and other reasonable costs, and claim the property. Once the property left behind is released to the former tenant, the landlord ceases to be liable to any person for that property.

Can I dispose of the abandoned property left by my tenant?

Yes, a landlord can dispose of his/her tenant's abandoned property. However, before proceeding with disposal, the landlord must follow a certain procedure. Pursuant to abandoned property law, a landlord must ensure the following:

  • The landlord must send a notice to the former tenant.
  • If the property is not claimed by anyone within certain days after the notice, the landlord can sell or dispose of the property.
  • If the landlord sells the property, the landlord can keep sufficient money from the sale for the value of any unpaid rent and expenses.
  • If there is any money left over, it should be handed over to the former tenant.

Can a landlord make repairs to abandoned property?

Yes, landlord and tenant law entitles a property owner to enter upon abandoned property for making necessary repairs. However, when a landlord re-enters abandoned premises in order to make repairs, law does not consider it to be an acceptance of the abandoned premises.