Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property in Alaska

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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?
Learn more.

If a tenant leaves property behind, can I dispose of it as I see fit or are there rules I must follow?

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).)

How much time does the tenant get to reclaim abandoned property?

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.

What should the notice say?

In Alaska, what you must include in the notice depends on the value of the tenant’s abandoned property.

  • Property you can sell. If you can sell the abandoned property for a profit, the notice must state that you may offer the property at a public sale after the deadline.
  • Property with little value. If the costs of storing and selling the property would outweigh any profit, the notice must say that you may destroy or otherwise dispose of the property.
  • Both kinds of property. If the tenant has left behind a mix of valuable and worthless property, the notice must say that you intend to sell certain items and destroy or otherwise dispose of the rest.

(See Alaska Statutes § 34.03.260(a)(1) and (2).)

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.

What are the rules about storing a tenant’s abandoned property?

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.

I had to pay to store the tenant’s property. Will I be reimbursed for that?

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:

  • Property stored in the rental unit. If you stored the property in the rental unit, the storage cost may not be more than the fair rental value of the premises.
  • Property stored at a facility. If you used a commercial storage facility, you can charge the actual cost of the storage, including anything you had to pay to move the abandoned property to the storage location.

(See Alaska Statutes § 34.03.260(b) and (c).)

How do I hold a public sale?

Before selling the tenant’s abandoned property, you must:

  • post a written sale announcement in three different places within five miles of the sale
  • place one of the notices at the post office closest to the location of the sale, and
  • post the notices at least 10 days before the sale.

See Alaska Statutes §§ 34.03.260(e) and 9.35.140.)

 

If I legally sell the tenant’s property, do I get to keep the proceeds?

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.

If a tenant owes me money, can I take and sell the tenant’s property to cover the amount due?

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.)

When should I get a lawyer’s help?

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:

  • whether a tenancy has been properly terminated
  • whether a tenant’s property is truly abandoned, or
  • what you should do with the proceeds of a public sale of a tenant’s abandoned property.

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.

Learn more

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).

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