Whether a tenant moves out voluntarily or after an eviction, you may find yourself not only cleaning up and repairing damage, but also dealing with personal property left behind. Usually, this will just be trash that the tenant doesn’t want, such as old wine bottles, food, and newspapers. When it’s clear that you’re dealing with garbage, you’re free to dispose of it. Remember that you can deduct the cost of cleaning up a tenant’s rental unit and making any necessary repairs from their security deposit. See Idaho Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines for details.
Getting rid of belongings that have value -- such as a bicycle, a stereo, clothes, or furniture -- is another story. Unlike most states, Idaho has no written laws telling landlords how to deal with valuable personal property an ex-tenant leaves behind. However, the Idaho Office of the Attorney General recommends that you file an eviction lawsuit, which will allow you to remove the tenant’s abandoned belongings by court order. (See the Attorney General’s booklet, Landlord and Tenant Guidelines.)
This article explains what happens if you do file an eviction lawsuit to get permission to remove a tenant’s abandoned property -- and also offers some suggestions if you decide to go it alone, without a court order.
Handling a Tenant’s Property After an Eviction
When you win an eviction lawsuit in Idaho, the court will issue an order called a “writ of restitution.” This order gives the local sheriff’s office permission to remove the tenant and the tenant’s property from a rental unit.
After a legal eviction, you are not allowed to move the tenant’s property yourself. Instead, you must pay the sheriff’s office to move the property and place it in storage. The sheriff’s office will give the tenant two weeks to reclaim the property; after that, they will offer it for sale to the public.
The money from the public sale will be used to reimburse you for the costs of moving and storing the property. It may also cover other debts the tenant owes you, such as back rent. Any extra funds will be given back to the tenant or, if the tenant can’t be found, turned over to the state as unclaimed property.
The Ada County Sheriff’s Office provides more information about using a writ of restitution in Idaho.
Removing a Tenant’s Property Without a Court Order
If the tenant is gone and you’re certain the property has been abandoned, you might decide to dispose of the property without going to court. In this case, you should take steps to protect yourself from problems if the tenant shows up later.
Give the Tenant Notice Before Disposing of Abandoned Property
Handle the tenant’s abandoned property with reasonable care and give the tenant notice before you get rid of it. It’s wise to do the following:
- take inventory (including photographs) of the abandoned property
- store any property that has value
- provide a written notice detailing how and where the tenant can reclaim the property
- give a deadline for picking up the property (allow at least two weeks)
- make clear that the tenant must reimburse you for the reasonable costs of storing the property, and
- state that failure to claim the property means it is legally abandoned.
The notice you give to the tenant should also say what you might do with the abandoned property, including offering it for sale to the public.
For additional guidance on preparing the notice, see Handling a Tenant’s Abandoned Property: Legal Notice Requirements.
Hold a Public Sale
If you give the tenant reasonable notice and they don’t come back for the property, you can dispose of it. To be safe, you may wish to:
- sell any valuable property at a public sale
- publish notice of the sale in a prominent place, including a newspaper with daily, local circulation, and
- send the tenant a final notice that states where and when you will sell the property.
If the tenant owes you money for back rent, property damage, or reasonable storage costs -- and the tenant’s security deposit didn’t cover everything -- you can take the balance out of the sale proceeds. If there’s money left over, you’d be wise to keep funds from sale proceeds in trust for the tenant for at least a year, then turn the money over to the state as required after eviction sales, discussed above.
If there is insufficient money to cover back rent, property damage, or storage costs, you may sue the tenant in small claims court. See Idaho Landlord’s Guide to Security Deposit Disputes in Small Claims Court for details.
When to Get a Lawyer’s help
A qualified lawyer can help you find and understand any rules that apply to your situation. It’s particularly wise to consult a lawyer if you think the abandoned property may be very valuable or if you have any reason to believe the tenant may cause problems later. A good lawyer can help you protect yourself from claims that you have stolen or destroyed a tenant’s property. You can search for an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in Idaho using Nolo’s Lawyer Directory.
For more information about your rights and responsibilities as a landlord, see the Landlords section of Nolo.com, including the article Top 8 Landlord Legal Responsibilities in Idaho.
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).