Most states have laws governing what happens when a tenant moves out and leaves personal property behind. These laws may control matters such as how long you must wait before dealing with the property and what kind of notice, if any, you must give the tenant before taking action. Here are answers to common questions about handling a tenant’s abandoned property in Georgia.
If a tenant leaves property behind, can I dispose of it as I see fit or are there rules I must follow?
I know the tenant abandoned the rental unit and I don’t want to get a court order. What should I do with the tenant’s personal belongings?
When should I get a lawyer’s help?
In Georgia, what you must do depends on how the tenancy ended.
Planned moves. If a tenant moves out at the end of a lease and returns the key, Georgia law does not say what you must do with property left behind. If the items are clearly garbage, you can throw them out. For other belongings, the common sense approach is to contact the tenant and try to return the property, especially if you believe the tenant accidentally left something of value. If it costs you anything to remove the tenant’s property, you can hold the funds back from the security deposit.
Evictions. You must take specific steps to deal with a tenant’s abandoned property after winning an eviction lawsuit. To learn the rules, see Handling a Tenant’s Property in Georgia: After an Eviction.
Unannounced departures. If you believe a tenant has abandoned a rental unit, the Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook (published by the State of Georgia Department of Community Affairs) suggests that you wait until rent is past due, then file an eviction lawsuit. After you have a court order giving you back the rental unit, you can dispose of the tenant’s belongings without worry, following the rules for evictions.
If you don’t get a court order officially giving you possession of the rental property, it’s smart to take the following steps before disposing of belongings left behind:
For additional guidance on preparing a letter for the tenant, see Handling a Tenant’s Abandoned Property: Legal Notice Requirements.
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. A good lawyer can help you protect yourself from claims that you have stolen or improperly destroyed a tenant’s property.
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).