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 Nebraska 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. Nebraska 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.
Before doing anything with a tenant’s property, you must first determine whether the tenant has actually abandoned the property and the rental unit. You can consider the property to be abandoned if the tenancy has either been terminated (such as with an eviction lawsuit) or expired and the tenant has moved out of the rental unit (see Neb. Rev. Stat. § 69-2303(1)).
If you think the tenant has moved out of the rental unit but the tenancy has not actually expired or been terminated, then you might want to consider bringing an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. There are certain rules you must follow when evicting a tenant, and The Eviction Process in Nebraska: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers can help you.
Once you have determined that the property is abandoned, then you can move the property to a safe and secure location for storage (and you can charge the tenant for the storage fees). (See Neb. Rev. Stat. § 69-2306.) Then, you must send the tenant written notice stating that you intend to dispose of the property unless the tenant claims it within a certain time frame. Nebraska provides very specific guidelines on what should be included in the notice, even providing a template for you to use (see Neb. Rev. Stat. § § 69-2304 and 69-2305).
You can either personally deliver this notice to the tenant, or mail it to the tenant at the tenant’s last known address or any other addresses you might know of for the tenant. If you hand deliver the notice, then the tenant will have seven days to claim the property and remove it from your possession. If you mail the notice, then the tenant will have 14 days (see Neb. Rev. Stat. § 69-2303).
If the tenant does not claim the personal property in time, then you can get rid of it. If the property is worth less than $1,000, then you can keep it or dispose of it. If the property is worth more than $1,000, then you must sell it at a public sale.
You must advertise for the sale in a newspaper with general circulation in your county. The advertisement must be posted at least once a week for two weeks. If there is not a newspaper with general circulation for the county, then you must post notice of the sale in at least six conspicuous locations in the neighborhood where the sale will take place. The advertisement must include a description of the property to be sold, the name of the former tenant, and the date and location of the sale.
After the sale, you can use the proceeds of the sale to pay for the costs of storage, advertising, and sale of the property. (You cannot use the proceeds to pay for unpaid rent the tenant owes you or damages to the rental unit.) If there is any money left over, you must make it available for the tenant. If the tenant does not claim the money within 30 days of the sale, then you must turn it over to the state treasurer (see Neb. Rev. Stat. § 69-2308).
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 change any of Nebraska’s abandoned property laws, but it could require you to do more than the law requires. For example, you might be required under the terms of your lease to give the tenant a 30-day notice before disposing of the tenant’s abandoned property, instead of a 14-day notice.
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 Nebraska.