What do you do if a tenant leaves items behind? [Detailed Guide]

When a tenant moves out, it takes time to find a new one and we are sure all landlords would want to keep the vacancy of the property at a minimum. 

A few major things that slow down the process of finding a new tenant are: repairs, items left behind and the state of the property. 

To reduce the time and effort it takes to find a new tenant it’s important you do a thorough walk-through at the property to evaluate the condition of the property. This will allow you to do a first hand assessment of any damages that need to be repaired, the condition of the place (has a lot of garbage been left behind?) and maintenance (are there any dripping taps or chipped paint?). 

One major question that arises is – what do you do with items that are left behind? Be it furniture, fixtures or small personal belongings. 

We have created a simple guide that will help you understand how to tackle abandoned items left behind by tenants. 

How do you begin?

Any item left behind can be for two reasons, either forgetfulness or abandonment. The first step would be identity which one is the case. If the item has been forgotten it’ll need to be returned, but if it’s abandoned, you can sell it, give it away or dispose of it. 

When you do a complete walk through of your property, ensure you are making a note of the condition of the property. We would recommend doing this task every time the lease turns over. 

Identify and list items left behind, fixtures and damages. You do want a pile of problems such small damages that are ignored and lead to a larger damage or even furniture or any other items left behind being passed on and you are not aware of it. 

Your duty as a landlord/property owner

If you find that the tenant has forgotten some items behind in the chaos of their moving, you will have to follow a basic protocol to ensure you are not liable for their property:

  • You should begin with taking pictures of the property and any items left behind to record the condition of the property. 
  • Create an inventory list with any damages you find, any items left behind or fixtures they put up, this creates a form of documentation. Share both the images and the list with the tenant. 
  • Identify with a follow-up call to get clarity on what category the items left fall into: were they forgotten or were they abandoned. 

It’s important to remember that, while some items left behind may look like junk to you or as something unwanted, as a property owner, you have to ensure you have done your part by cross verifying with the tenants that they don’t want it back. 

The items have been forgotten

When you do that follow up call and the tenant gets back to you saying they forgot to take that particular item with them, you will need to:

  • Store the items in a suitable place and remove them from the property. This will ensure any new tenants can move in immediately. Also, share the information of relocation with the old tenant 
  • Establish a suitable realistic time frame in which the items have to be collected. You cannot hold onto your tenants items for years and they come back to you 3 years later asking for it
  • Discuss the logistics of the moving, packing and storage of the items. If they request your assistance in the shipping of the items. Be sure to keep a list of expenses and set expectations of who will bear the payment OR highlight that all additional costs associated with the items will be deducted from the Security deposit
  • If the item left behind is a large piece of furniture that can’t be moved immediately, creating a shorter time frame for it to be removed from the property. 

Items are abandoned

In the circumstance that the tenant says they do not wish to claim the item, like some fixture/furniture they left behind. You have a lot of flexibility to decide on what happens to the items. 

  • Assess the condition of the item left behind, ask the tenant why it was abandoned. Did they leave behind a decent looking mattress because it had bed bugs? Or there is a chair that has termites? It is essential you know these details as you do not want bug infested items on your property. 
  • Once the reason for abandonment is clear. You can choose to dispose of the items, give it away or sell it based on its condition. Ensure the tenant is aware they will not be able to claim that item if they change their mind once their final communication has been made. 

Preventive steps you can take to avoid such circumstances and additional tasks:

  1. Screen tenants – see what their background is, do they have young children. While this won’t fully indicate how they will treat your property, you will know young children may be likely to draw on your walls, or if they are 2 bachelors, they may be prone to being lazy about repairs. We are not using this example as a generalisation, but as simple possible examples. 
  2. Include a clause in the lease agreement that covers abandonment of items/belongings. Include:

– The protocol of Inventory and pictures being shared 

– The deadline for claim 

– Where they may be stored and transported to 

– Any charges that may be involved in the logistics of the movement/storage/shipment 

– Consequence of failure to claim/pickup within a given time frame and beyond.    

  1. Set prior clear expectations about the security deposit and under which circumstances it will be forfeited/deducted.
  • If the property is damaged 
  • There are pending repairs/maintenance 
  • Removing fixtures like bookshelves or wall mounts left behind and are unwanted 
  • If the house has a lot of garbage or waste lying around. 
  1. Hire a property Manager: 

In the middle of your own busy lives, living in a different city or time zone, you may not have the time to go down to your property everytime a new tenant moves in. 

Hiring a property manager will save you time and will ensure your property is kept top notch and all documents and procedures are taken care of with diligence from advertising your property effectively, screening tenants to the complete tenant lifecycle – a property manager has all the bases covered!

All you have to do is wait for timely updates at the comfort of your home and reap the benefits of your property.

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