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, you have to give tenants before taking action.
Here are some answers to common questions landlords have about handling a tenant’s abandoned property in Colorado.
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 the abandoned property?
How do I notify the tenant that I plan to dispose of abandoned property?
What should the notice say?
What are the rules about storing a tenant’s abandoned property?
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?
In Colorado, what you must do depends on how the tenancy ended.
Evictions. If you’ve won an eviction lawsuit, the judge will issue an order -- called a “writ of restitution” -- allowing a sheriff to lock the tenant out of the rental unit. Colorado is the only state that doesn’t require you to store or protect the tenant’s property in this situation. You may do what you like with the tenant’s belongings, but watch out for local ordinances that may prohibit you from simply dumping mattresses, furniture, and other items on the curb.
If you choose to store the tenant’s property after an eviction, you’re allowed to charge the tenant for the reasonable costs of doing so. You aren’t responsible for any damage to the property while storing it.
For more information, read Colorado Revised Statutes § 13-40-122.
Planned moves or unannounced departures. If a tenant moves out at the end of a lease agreement -- or even if the tenant simply disappears -- you must wait for a specified period of time and then give the tenant notice before disposing of abandoned property. The rest of this article discusses the steps you must take in either of these situations.
Before getting rid of abandoned property, you must wait at least 30 days from the date the tenant last contacted you. If you have any reason to think the tenant hasn’t abandoned the property, you must continue to store it. (SeeColorado Revised Statutes § 38-20-116(1).)
You must give the tenant at least 15 days' written notice before selling, giving away, or tossing out abandoned belongings. For example, if you mail a notice on March 1, the deadline to reclaim the property must be March 16 or later.
Colorado law requires you to take these steps when sending the notice:
If the tenant’s last known address is your rental unit, you may send the notice there.
If the notice is returned unclaimed. You must publish the notice for at least one day in a newspaper in the county where the property is located. Keep the notice for one year, along with proof that it was undeliverable.
If the tenant receives and signs for the notice. Keep a copy of the notice and receipt for one year.
For more information, see Colorado Revised Statutes § 38-20-116(2).
The notice must contain at least the deadline for claiming the property and a statement of what you intend to do with it if the tenant doesn’t claim it. (See Colorado Revised Statutes § 38-20-116(2).)
For tips on what else to include in the notice -- such telling the tenant where to find the property and including a description of the property and its estimated value -- see Handling a Tenant’s Abandoned Property: Legal Notice Requirements.
Colorado law doesn’t set out specific guidelines for storing abandoned property. Use common sense: Store it in a safe place and take reasonably good care of it. 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 bookcase out in the rain.
You may charge the tenant for the reasonable costs of storing the property.
You are free to sell a tenant’s legally abandoned property to cover what the tenant owes you. If the tenant’s property has not been abandoned, you may still have a claim (called a “lien”) on some of the tenant’s belongings. In this situation, you must follow rules about how to seize the property and what items you can take.
Before you act, research Colorado law or talk to your landlords’ association or a lawyer. You may wish to begin by reading Can a Landlord Take a Tenant’s Property? on the website of Colorado Legal Services.
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 the tenancy has been properly terminated or whether the property is truly abandoned.
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 Colorado using Nolo’s Lawyer Directory.
If you want to read Colorado’s landlord laws, you can find state statutes at Colorado Revised Statutes § § 38-12-101 to 38-12-104; 38-12-301 to 38-12-302; 38-12-501 to 38-12-511; and 13-40-101 to 13-40-123. Begin your search at the Colorado Revised Statutes page offered by LexisNexis. You may also want to check out the resources available from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
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).