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.
If a tenant moves out and leaves more valuable personal property behind, Missouri law sets out rules about what you must do.
What steps do I have to take before disposing of a tenant's abandoned property?
How do I notify the tenant that I intend to dispose of abandoned property?
What are the rules about storing a tenant's abandoned property?
When should I get a lawyer's help?
In Missouri, you may dispose of a tenant's abandoned belongings -- by selling them, giving them away, or simply tossing them out -- after these four requirements are met:
You must post a written notice at the rental property and mail a copy to the tenant at the tenant's last known address by both first class mail and certified mail, return receipt requested.
According to Missouri law, the notice must say:
"The rent on this property has been due and unpaid for thirty consecutive days and the landlord believes that you have moved out and abandoned the property. The landlord may declare this property abandoned and remove your possessions from this unit and dispose of them unless you write to the landlord stating that you have not abandoned this unit within ten days of the landlord having both posted this notice on your door and mailing this notice to you. You should mail your statement by regular first class mail and, if you so choose, by certified mail, return receipt requested, to this address: [insert your name and address here]."
For more tips on preparing a notice -- such as including a description of the property and an estimation of its value -- see Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property: Legal Notice Requirements.
Missouri law doesn't specify how you must care for the property, but it's safe to assume you should use reasonable care when handling the tenant's belongings. That said, you most likely won't be liable for harm to the property unless you damage it on purpose or handle it negligently -- for example, by exposing it to the elements or leaving it where it could easily be stolen.
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 rental unit and personal belongings have been legally abandoned.
A good lawyer can help you protect yourself from claims that you have stolen or improperly destroyed a tenant's property. You can search for an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in Missouri using Nolo's Lawyer Directory.
To read Missouri's landlord-tenant laws, see Chapter 441 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.
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).