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. For details, see Florida Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines.
Getting rid of belongings that have value (whether monetary, medical, or sentimental) —such as bicycles, furniture, medicine, or family photos—is another story. Florida has specific laws for when and how you can get rid of a tenant's abandoned personal property, and this article will explain the basics of those laws.
To determine whether the personal property left behind in a rental unit is abandoned, you must consider two things: whether the tenancy has been terminated (or expired), and whether the tenant has actually moved out of the rental unit.
A tenancy can be terminated in a variety of ways, including eviction. The lease or rental agreement could also expire by a certain date. If the landlord stops accepting rent after the expiration of the lease or rental agreement and notifies the tenant of the landlord's desire to end the tenancy, then the tenancy can be considered terminated. For other ways to terminate a tenancy, see The Eviction Process in Florida: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers.
You must also decide whether the tenant has actually moved out of the rental unit. If the tenancy has ended and the tenant has moved out of the rental unit, then you can consider any property left behind to be abandoned and take steps toward disposing of it (see Fla. Stat. Ann. § 715.104(1)).
After making sure the property has been abandoned, you must then notify the former tenant of the items left behind and of your intention to dispose of the items if they are not claimed.
First, inventory the items and store them in a safe location. You can decide to keep the property in the rental unit, but the unit must be safe and secure. Then, you must give the tenant notice of the property, describing the property in enough detail that the tenant could reasonably identify it. If you know that some of the property belongs to someone other than the tenant, then you must also send a notice to the actual owner of the property, along with the tenant.
Florida law has provided templates for you to use when notifying the tenant or owner of the property (see Fla. Stat. Ann. § § 715.105 and 715.106). This makes it very easy for you to send out the notice. You just have to provide the specific information for your situation. Whether you are sending notice to the tenant or someone other than the tenant, each notice must contain the following information:
You can either deliver this notice to the tenant in person or mail the notice to the tenant's last known address, or any address where you believe the tenant could be reached. If you personally deliver the notice to the tenant, then the tenant has at least ten days to claim the personal property. If you mail the notice to the tenant, then the tenant has at least 15 days to claim the property. Remember that you can charge the tenant for the reasonable costs of storing the property and prohibit the tenant (or owner of the property) from claiming the property until those costs have been paid (see Fla. Stat. Ann. § § 715.104–108).
If the property left behind is worth $500 or more and the tenant does not claim it, then you must sell the property at a public auction. You must provide notice of the auction in a local newspaper at least once a week for two weeks before the auction. If there is not a local newspaper available to you, then you must post notice of the sale in at least six conspicuous places in the neighborhood of the proposed sale. This advertising must go up at least ten days before the sale will occur.
The tenant can still claim the property up until the sale occurs. However, the tenant must pay not only for the costs of storage up to this point but also the costs of advertising and preparing for the sale.
After the sale, you can use the proceeds to pay for the costs of storage, advertising, and the sale itself, but within 30 days of the sale, you must give any leftover money to the treasury of the county in which the sale took place. The tenant can claim the money from the county for up to a year later.
If the property is worth less than $500, then you aren't required to sell the property. You can either keep it for personal use or dispose of it through any legal means (see Fla. Stat. Ann. § 715.109).
Before disposing of any property left behind by the tenant, be sure to check the terms of your lease or rental agreement concerning abandoned property. The lease or rental agreement cannot shorten the amount of notice (ten or 15 days) you must give to the tenant. However, the terms of the lease or rental agreement could increase the legal time periods (for example, your lease could require you to give the tenant a 30-day notice (not ten days) before disposing of it).
If you have any questions regarding the process of determining abandonment or disposing of property left behind by a tenant, you should contact a lawyer. A lawyer will help ensure you are following the law and help protect you from liability to the tenant. Nolo's lawyer directory can help you find a good landlord-tenant lawyer in Florida.