Handling a Tenant's Property in Delaware: After an Eviction
Learn the rules landlords in Delaware must follow to deal with property abandoned by a tenant after an eviction.
If you’ve won an eviction lawsuit -- called an “action for summary possession” in Delaware -- you may feel like tossing the tenant’s belongings out into the street. But Delaware law sets out specific procedures for dealing with a tenant’s property after an eviction. Here are answers to common questions about what landlords must do.
The court granted permission to evict the tenant. How long must I wait before removing the tenant’s property from the rental unit?
First, you must give the tenant five days to appeal the court’s decision. If there’s no appeal or if the appeal fails, the court will issue an order called a “writ of possession,” allowing a constable or sheriff to remove the tenant from the rental unit. After the tenant has been legally evicted, you are allowed to remove any property the tenant left behind -- but you must store it for a short time, as discussed next. (See Delaware Code § 5715 and the Delaware State Courts website.)
How long do I have to store the tenant’s property after an eviction?
After the tenant is evicted, you must store the abandoned property for at least seven days. If the property is a manufactured home, you may have to store it for 30 days. (See Delaware Code § 5715 and the Delaware State Courts website.)
Delaware doesn’t provide specific rules for storing the property, but you should do what you can to keep it safe. 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 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 the tenant never reclaims the property, can I do whatever I like with it?
Probably, yes. Delaware law says you may dispose of the property -- meaning sell it, give it away, or throw it out -- “without further notice or obligation to the tenant.” (See Delaware Code § 5715.)
This rule does not apply to manufactured homes, however. For more information on dealing with manufactured homes, read Title 25, Chapter 70 of the Delaware Code or consult a qualified lawyer (see below).
I had to pay to store the tenant’s property. Will I be reimbursed for that?
Most likely, yes. Delaware law is clear that you may store the property “at the tenant’s expense.” This means that after the waiting period is over, you can sell the abandoned property to cover the costs of storing it. Or, if the tenant shows up to reclaim the property, you don’t have to turn it over until the tenant pays the storage costs. (See Delaware Code § 5715 and the Delaware State Courts website.)
When should I get a lawyer’s help?
If the abandoned property is very valuable -- for example, if it’s a manufactured home -- or if you have any reason to believe the tenant may cause problems later, it’s wise to talk to a lawyer before you do anything other than carefully store the tenant’s possessions. A good lawyer can help you protect yourself from claims that you have stolen or improperly destroyed a tenant’s property.
For more information about your rights and responsibilities as a landlord, see the Landlords section of Nolo.com, including the article Top 10 Landlord Legal Responsibilities in Delaware.
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).