Every state has 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 the tenant before taking action.
Here are some answers to common landlord questions about handling a tenant’s abandoned property in Connecticut.
If a tenant leaves property behind, can I dispose of it as I see fit or are there rules I must follow?
How do I notify the tenant that I intend to dispose of abandoned property?
How long do I have to keep the tenant’s abandoned property?
What are the rules about storing a tenant’s abandoned property?
When should I get a lawyer’s help?
In Connecticut, what you must do depends on how the tenancy ended.
Planned moves. If a tenant moves out at the end of a lease or after receiving a legal termination notice from you, Connecticut law does not say what you must do with property left behind. If the items are clearly garbage, you may get rid of them. For other items, the common sense approach is to contact the tenant and return the property, particularly if you believe the tenant has accidentally left something of value. If you incur costs related to removing a tenant’s abandoned property, you can hold the funds back from the tenant’s security deposit.
Evictions. If you’ve won an eviction lawsuit, state law sets out specific rules for dealing with the tenant’s belongings. To find out what to do, see Handling a Tenant’s Property in Connecticut: After an Eviction.
Unannounced departures. If a tenant simply disappears and you establish that the rental unit has been abandoned, you may not dispose of property left behind unless you give the tenant notice and wait for at least 30 days. (See Connecticut General Statutes § § 47a-11b.)
The rest of this article discusses the steps you must take to deal with a tenant’s property after the tenant abandons a rental unit.
Send a notice to the tenant’s last known address by regular mail, postage prepaid, and also by certified mail, return receipt requested. In the notice, you must say:
You must also include a telephone number and address where the tenant can contact you. If the notices are returned to you as undeliverable or the tenant fails to contact you within ten days of receiving the notice, you can enter the rental unit to inventory and/or remove the tenant’s abandoned property.
As stated above, you must keep the property for at least 30 days after giving notice. If the tenant doesn’t reclaim the property, you may dispose of it however you like -- for example, by selling it, giving it away, or tossing it out. (See Connecticut General Statutes § § 47a-11b(d).)
Connecticut law states only that you must inventory any property the tenant leaves behind. (See Connecticut General Statutes § § 47a-11b(d).) Store the property in a safe place, such as the rental unit or another secure location. You most likely aren’t liable for damage to the property unless you damage it on purpose or handle it negligently -- for example, by leaving a good sofa out in the rain.
To avoid problems, be careful when moving and storing the tenant’s belongings until the tenant reclaims them or you dispose of them.
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 rental unit and property have been legally abandoned. A good lawyer can help you protect yourself from claims that you have stolen or improperly destroyed a tenant’s property.
You can search for an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in Connecticut using Nolo’s Lawyer Directory.
To read Connecticut’s landlord laws, see Title 47a of the Connecticut General Statutes.
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).