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 Jersey 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 Jersey 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.
The first step in deciding what to do with abandoned property is determining whether the property and the rental unit are, in fact, abandoned. The first thing you must consider is whether you reasonably believe the tenant has moved out of the rental unit. If you believe the tenant has moved out of the rental unit, then you must also have one of the following:
If you think the tenant has moved out of the rental unit, but you have not received written notice from the tenant or filed an eviction lawsuit against the tenant, you should probably consider the legal ways you can terminate the tenancy and gain possession of the rental unit before you do anything with personal property that has been left behind. The Eviction Process in New Jersey: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers will have ideas for you if you find yourself in this situation.
Before getting rid of any of the abandoned personal property, you must first give the tenant written notice, allowing the tenant time to reclaim the property. You must send the notice by certified mail, with a return receipt requested, or by receipted first class mail to the tenant’s last known address and any other addresses you might know about (with the outside envelope labeled “Please Forward”).
The notice must contain the following information:
You can move the property out of the rental unit to a safe storage location. If you do this, you must also inform the tenant that you will charge the tenant for reasonable moving and storage costs when the tenant reclaims the property (see New Jersey Stat. Ann. § § 2A:18-74, 75, and 77).
The tenant will have 33 days from the date of the notice to claim the property. If the tenant contacts you to claim the property, the tenant will have either 15 more days to actually remove the property from your possession or until the end of the 33-day notice period, whichever is longer (see New Jersey Stat. Ann. § 2A:18-76).
If the tenant does not claim the property within the appropriate time frame, then you can either sell the property at a public or private sale, or dispose of the property. If you decide to sell the property, then you can deduct from the proceeds the reasonable costs of notice, moving and storing the property, and any unpaid rent or damages not covered by the security deposit. You must then make best efforts to locate the tenant to give the tenant any leftover money. If you can’t find the tenant, then you must deposit the money with the New Jersey Superior Court. The court will hold on to the money for 10 years. If the tenant still does not claim the money, then it will be turned over to the state (see New Jersey Stat. Ann. § § 2A:18-78 and 80).
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. Under New Jersey law, the lease or rental agreement cannot shorten the amount of notice you must give to the tenant (33 days). However, the terms of the lease or rental agreement could increase the notice period (for example, your lease could require you to give the tenant a 45-day notice, instead of 33 days, before disposing of abandoned property).
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 Jersey.