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Abandoned Personal Property in Vacated Rental Units

Where a tenant is evicted or vacates rental premises and leaves behind personal property, we can assist the landlord with disposition of the personal property. Under California law, a landlord is entitled to immunity concerning the disposition of the personal property if the landlord follows certain statutory procedures. The procedures vary slightly depending on whether the rented premises are commercial premises or residential premises and whether the tenant has vacated the premises voluntarily or been evicted.  An overview of the procedures is set forth below.

Notice of Right to Reclaim Abandoned Property

The former tenant(s) and others “reasonably believed” to be owners of the apparently abandoned property must be given written notice of the right to reclaim the personal property. The notice is required regardless of the value of the property.

Former Tenants Of Residential Property Evicted By The Sheriff

The landlord is not required to serve a notice to former tenants of residential property evicted by the Sheriff under a writ of possession. Residential tenants who vacated under a writ of possession served after an unlawful detainer judgment against them are given the requisite notice on the writ of possession form served by the Sheriff. They need not be given subsequent notice by the landlord. Therefore, a separate notice need only be served on those former tenants who vacated other than by eviction under a writ of possession and on other nontenants “reasonably believed” to be owners of the property left behind.

Form and Content Of the Notice

The form and content of the written notice of right to reclaim personal property is provided by statute. In completing the form, the landlord must describe the apparently abandoned property in detail “reasonably adequate” to permit the owner to identify it. The more detailed the description, the greater the landlord’s insulation from liability on claims of unauthorized disposition. The notice must also advise the former tenants that: (a) that return of the property may be conditioned upon payment of reasonable storage costs to the landlord, (b) of the place where the property may be reclaimed, and (c) of the deadline on or before which the property must be reclaimed, under risk of sale or other disposition authorized by law.

Service of Notice

The notice may be served either by personal delivery to the former tenant(s) and supposed property owners; or by first-class, postage prepaid mail addressed as follows: (a) to the former tenants’ and other supposed owners’ last known address, AND (b) if there is “reason to believe” that notice sent to the last known address will not be received by the person entitled to notice, also to such other address, if any, known to the landlord where that person may reasonably be expected to receive the notice; AND (c) to the premises vacated by the former tenants.

Storage Pending Disposition

Pending the notice period, and prior to the deadline for reclaiming the property, the landlord must either leave the apparently abandoned property on the vacated premises or store it in a safe place.

Release To Timely Claimant

The landlord must release the property to the former tenant or, at the landlord’s option, to any person “reasonably believed” by the landlord to own the property, if such person pays the reasonable storage costs and takes possession no later than the deadline stated in the notice for taking possession.

Sale Or Other Disposition of Personal Property Not Claimed

Any unclaimed property left on the premises once the time period for taking possession has run and that is reasonably believed to be worth less than $700 in “resale value” may be kept by the landlord for its own use or otherwise disposed of (i.e., even destroyed). But unclaimed property worth $700 or more “shall be sold at public sale by competitive bidding.” Any sale of personal property should be handled by a professional auction company.