Most states have laws governing what happens when a tenant moves out and leaves personal property behind. These laws may control matters such as how long landlords must wait before dealing with the property and what kind of notice, if any, landlords must give tenants before taking action.
Here are some answers to common landlord questions about handling a tenant’s abandoned property in Alaska.
If a tenant leaves property behind, can I dispose of it as I see fit or are there rules I must follow?
How much time does the tenant get to reclaim abandoned property?
What should the notice say?
What are the rules about storing a tenant’s abandoned property?
I had to pay to store the tenant’s property. Will I be reimbursed for that?
How do I hold a public sale?
If I legally sell the tenant’s property, do I get to keep the proceeds?
If a tenant owes me money, can I take and sell the tenant’s property to cover the amount due?
When should I get a lawyer’s help?
Alaska law states that you may not sell, give away, or throw out abandoned property until you give the tenant notice and wait for a specified period of time. This rule doesn’t apply to perishable goods -- such as food in the refrigerator -- which you may dispose of immediately. (See Alaska Statutes § 34.03.260(a)(1).)
You must provide notice demanding that the tenant remove the abandoned property by a date you specify. That deadline must be at least 15 days from the day that you mail or deliver the notice. For example, if you mail the notice on March 1, the deadline may be March 16 or later. (See Alaska Statutes § 34.03.260(a)(1).)
To avoid legal trouble, be certain the rental agreement has been legally terminated before you send the notice and start the clock on the waiting period. If you need information on the right steps to take to end a tenancy, see Evicting a Tenant or Ending a Lease on Nolo.com, read Alaska’s landlord statutes (see below), or consult a qualified lawyer.
In Alaska, what you must include in the notice depends on the value of the tenant’s abandoned property.
For more tips on preparing the notice -- such as telling the tenant where to reclaim the property and including a description of it -- see Handling a Tenant’s Abandoned Property: Legal Notice Requirements.
After you give the tenant notice, you must store the property in a safe place and take reasonably good care of it. That said, you won’t be liable for damage to the property unless you damage it on purpose or handle it negligently -- for example, by leaving a good desk out in the rain. (See Alaska Statutes § 34.03.260(b) .)
To avoid problems, be careful when moving and storing the tenant’s belongings until the tenant reclaims them or you dispose of them.
If the tenant reclaims the property after receiving your notice, the tenant must pay you for the cost of storing the property. Here are guidelines for what you can charge:
Before selling the tenant’s abandoned property, you must:
You can apply the sale proceeds to storage costs, the costs of holding the sale, and to any debts the tenant owes you -- for example, back rent or damage not covered by a security deposit.
Though the law doesn’t explicitly say what you must do with any money left over, the best practice is to return it to the tenant. If you can’t find the tenant, Alaska’s unclaimed property law may require you to turn it over to the Alaska Department of Revenue. (See Alaska Statutes § 34.45.070.) If you find yourself in this situation, consider talking to a qualified lawyer (see below) to determine the best course of action.
As discussed just above, you may sell a tenant’s abandoned property after the legal notice period expires, and you may keep the proceeds to cover what the tenant owes you. If the tenant’s property has not been abandoned, Alaska law forbids you from seizing it to cover back rent or other debts a tenant owes you. (See Alaska Statutes § 34.03.250.)
If you think the abandoned property is very valuable or if you have any reason to believe the tenant may cause problems later, talk to a lawyer before you do anything other than carefully store the tenant’s possessions. It’s particularly important to get a lawyer’s advice if you have any questions about:
A good lawyer can help you protect yourself from claims that you have stolen or illegally destroyed a tenant’s property. You can search for an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in Alaska using Nolo’s Lawyer Directory.
To read Alaska’s landlord laws, see Title 34, Chapter 3 of the Alaska Statutes.
For more information about your rights and responsibilities as a landlord, see the Landlords section of Nolo.com.
If you want a comprehensive legal and practical handbook for residential landlords, check out Every Landlord’s Legal Guide, by Marcia Stewart, Ralph Warner, and Janet Portman (Nolo).