Most states have laws governing what happens when a tenant moves out and leaves personal property behind. Often, these laws control matters such as how long landlords must wait before dealing with the property and what kind of notice, if any, landlords 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.
In Colorado, what you must do depends on how the tenancy ended.
If you've won an eviction lawsuit, the judge will issue an order—called a “writ of restitution” in Colorado—allowing a sheriff to lock the tenant out of the rental unit. Colorado landlords have no duty to store or maintain a tenant's personal property that's removed from the rental during or after the execution of a writ of restitution (eviction). (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-40-122.) You may do what you like with the tenant's belongings, but watch out for local ordinances that likely 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.
If a tenant moves out voluntarily at the end of the lease—or even if the tenant simply disappears—the landlord 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. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 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.
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.
Keep a copy of the notice and receipt for one year.
For more information, see Colorado Revised Statutes section 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. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-20-116(2).)
For tips on what else to include in the notice—such as 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 might 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 local landlord-tenant attorney.
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 local landlord-tenant lawyer can help you protect yourself from claims that you have stolen or illegally destroyed a tenant's property.