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 New Hampshire 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. New Hampshire 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.
New Hampshire law gives very little guidance on how to determine whether a rental unit and personal property are abandoned. The easiest way to tell if a rental unit is abandoned is if the tenant has been evicted or if the tenancy has expired and the tenant has personally handed you the keys to the rental unit. Otherwise, it might be difficult to decide if the tenant has actually moved out of the rental unit.
If you don't hve clear proof that the property is abandoned, there are a few things you can consider, such as whether the tenant is current on rent and utility payments. You can also consider whether it appears the tenant has moved out of the rental unit or if any neighbors have seen the tenant in a few weeks. If you are unsure whether the tenant has abandoned the rental unit and personal property, then you might want to consider bringing an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. The Eviction Process in New Hampshire: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers will provide guidance for you if you are considering this option.
After you have determined that the rental unit and remaining personal property are, in fact, abandoned, then you must store the property for at least seven days. You can move the property to a safe and secure storage unit if you need to, but keep in mind that you cannot charge the tenant any storage fees. During this seven-day period, you must allow the tenant to recover the property without paying you any rent or additional fees. If the tenant does not come back and claim the personal property, then you are free to dispose of it. You do not need to send the tenant any kind of notice (see N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 540-A:3(VII)).
New Hampshire law does not provide guidance on what you can do with the property after the seven days, but your main options are going to be to trash it, donate it, or sell it. If you decide to sell the property, you should keep a few things in mind. You should post notice of the sale in the neighborhood where the sale will occur, and you should hang on to the proceeds of the sale for at least 30 days after the sale in case the tenant tries to claim the money. If the tenant does not claim the money, then you can keep it.
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, especially because New Hampshire law provides such little guidance concerning abandoned property. The lease or rental agreement cannot change any of New Hampshire’s abandoned property laws, but it could require you to do more than the law requires. For example, under the terms of your lease, you might be required to give the tenant a seven-day notice before disposing of the tenant’s abandoned property, instead of no notice at all.
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 New Hampshire.