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 abandoned property. Illinois case law may dictate what you must do, or there may be local ordinances that apply. For example, a Chicago ordinance sets out rules for that city, including the requirement that you hold or store valuable property for seven days before disposing of it. (See City of Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance § 15-12-130(f).)
We offer resources for finding Illinois law at the end of this article. If there’s no law that directly applies to your situation, consider taking the following common sense steps.
Include Abandoned Property Rules in Your Lease or Rental Agreement
It may be too late this time, but consider updating your lease or rental agreement to include provisions about dealing with a tenant’s abandoned property. In states without written laws explaining the rules, it’s particularly helpful to use a lease that says exactly what will happen if the tenant moves out and leaves stuff behind.
Your revised lease can cover different circumstances, such as the steps you’ll take if the tenant moves out after giving proper notice or after an eviction. For your own legal protection, these steps should include:
- taking inventory of the abandoned property
- storing any property that has value
- giving written notice to the tenant detailing how and where to reclaim the property
- providing a deadline for picking up the property (30 days is common)
- requiring the tenant to reimburse you for the reasonable costs of moving and storing the property, and
- declaring that failure to claim the property means it is legally abandoned.
The lease should also cover what you intend to do with abandoned property, including offering it for sale to the public.
For general tips on crafting a smart lease or rental agreement, see The Basics of Leases and Rental Agreements on Nolo.com.
Before drafting a new lease or rental agreement, you should research common practices in Illinois (a landlords’ association may provide useful advice) to ensure your provisions comply, or hire an experienced attorney to help draft appropriate lease language. See “Learn More,” below, for advice on finding these resources.
When There’s No Written Agreement
If you’re certain the property has been abandoned and your lease doesn’t cover the matter, it’s usually safe to take the steps set out in the section just above: Take inventory of the property (including photographs), carefully store it, and send a detailed notice to the tenant.
For additional guidance on preparing the notice, see Handling a Tenant’s Abandoned Property: Legal Notice Requirements.
When the Tenant Doesn’t Reclaim the Property
If you’ve given the tenant reasonable notice and they haven’t come back for the property, you can dispose of it. To be safe, you may wish to:
- sell the 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 smart to keep funds from sale proceeds in trust for the tenant for at least one year. After that, research Illinois law or consult a lawyer to find out whether you can keep the money or if you must turn it over to the county or state.
If there is insufficient money to cover back rent, property damage, or storage costs, you may sue the tenant in small claims court. See Illinois Landlord’s Guide to Security Deposit Disputes in Small Claims Court for details.
Finding Illinois Law
To find out whether state case law or a local ordinance applies in your situation, you’ll need to look up the law or get professional help.
Doing your own research. If you’re up for it, you can do your own search for Illinois cases covering tenants’ abandoned property. (For research tips, see the Legal Research section on Nolo.com.) To learn more about local ordinances, contact your county or municipal clerk's office.
Contacting a landlords’ association. You can often get good information and advice by talking with other landlords. You may want to begin by contacting an Illinois landlords’ association.
Getting 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’re not absolutely certain the property has been legally abandoned
- you think the abandoned property is very valuable, or
- 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 Illinois 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 9 Landlord Legal Responsibilities in Illinois.
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).