Dealing with Abandoned Property

Can you explain the new changes regarding how to deal with abandoned property after the tenant moves out?

Landlords have certain obligations to deal with a tenant’s abandoned property if the tenant has vacated or been evicted. Recent changes, supported by CAA, have been made to these laws to make it easier for landlords to dispose of tenant’s belongings, as well as alerting tenants to certain rights under the law.

If a tenant leaves behind abandoned property, the landlord must provide written notice to the tenant, describing the items in a manner so that the owner of the property can identify it. The notice must advise that reasonable costs for storage may be charged before the property is returned, state where it may be claimed, and the date before which the claim must be made. The date in the notice must be a date not less than 15 days after the notice is personally delivered or, if mailed, not less than 18 days after the notice is mailed.

Before the new changes to the law, if a tenant made no claim to the property during the waiting period and the value of the property was less than $300, the landlord would be free keep the items herself or throw them away. Alternatively, if the value was over $300, a “public sale” of the items by competitive bidding, like an auction, would have to be held, often at great expense to the landlord. However, effective January 1, 2013, the value threshold has been raised to $700. This higher value is important because a landlord would be forced to hold a costly auction if, for example, a tenant left behind an iPad and a flat screen TV, with the expenses of the auction unrecoverable with the mere proceeds of the sale. The new $700 limit will hopefully reduce unnecessary costly auctions.

New changes to the “abandoned property” laws also benefit tenants. Tenants were often unaware that they would have to pay the storage costs of their items in order to reclaim their property. If they waited too long, tenants could lose out on collecting their property if they couldn’t pay their landlord the reasonable storage fees. Thus, Civil Code §1946.1 was amended to include an announcement in “no fault” notices (usually 30, 60, or 90 day notices), advising tenants that there are certain conditions which allow them to reclaim their abandoned personal property, but that they can incur additional costs depending on the length of time the property is stored. All CAA “no fault” notices have been amended to reflect this new requirement. Lastly, a tenant will not have to pay storage fees to their landlord to collect their property if the items have been stored in the rental unit and it has only been two days or less since the tenant vacated the unit.

DW

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