When tenants move out, landlords often find themselves not only cleaning up and repairing damage but also dealing with personal property left behind. When it's clear that what's left behind is garbage—such as food wrappers, broken furniture, or leftover cleaning supplies—the landlord is free to dispose of it.
Getting rid of belongings that have value (whether monetary, medical, or sentimental)—such as bicycles, furniture, medicine, or family photos—is another story. North Carolina has specific laws for when and how landlords can get rid of a tenant's abandoned personal property.
Determining Whether the Property Is Abandoned
When deciding what to do with property left behind at a rental unit, landlords must first make sure that the property and the rental unit have actually been abandoned by the tenant. According to North Carolina law, landlords can consider a rental and the property within it abandoned:
- when the lease or rental agreement has expired, there's clear evidence that the tenant has left for good, and the landlord has no notice of a disability that caused the vacancy
- when the lease or rental agreement hasn't expired: Ten days after the landlord posts a notice stating that the landlord believes the rental has been abandoned in a conspicuous place both inside and outside the rental, and has received no response from the tenant, or
- after the execution of a writ of possession (eviction).
(See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-25.9 (2021).)
Disposing of Abandoned Property
A North Carolina landlord's options for disposing of a tenant's abandoned property vary depending on the circumstances of the abandonment.
- When the property has a value of $750 or less and has been abandoned or left behind after an eviction: The landlord can take the property to a nonprofit that gives or sells (at a nominal price) clothing or furnishings to people in need. The nonprofit must agree to hold the property for 30 days and release it to the former tenant if the former tenant claims it within that time period. The landlord must post a notice at the rental and at the place where rent was received, and must mail a notice to the tenant's last known address letting the tenant know where the property is being held. Alternatively, the landlord can deal with the property in one of the following two ways, depending on the value. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-25.9(d) (2021).)
- When the property has a value of less than $500 and has been left behind after an eviction: When the property left behind is valued at less than $500, the landlord can treat it as abandoned five days after the eviction. After those five days, the landlord can throw the property away. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-25.9(h) (2021).)
- When the property has a value of $500 or more and has been left behind after an eviction: The landlord can choose to donate the property if it is worth $750 or less (see above). Otherwise, the landlord must keep the property for seven days after the eviction (the landlord can move it and store it offsite if desired). During those seven days, the landlord must return the property to the former tenant if the former tenant requests it. If the landlord wants to sell the property, the landlord must give the former tenant a seven-day notice of sale. (The seven days can run concurrently with the seven days after the eviction.) The notice must be mailed to the former tenant's last known address, and must include the date, time, and place of where the sale will happen, as well as statements that:
- the landlord will apply the proceeds of the sale to unpaid rent, damages, storage fees, and sale costs
- the former tenant can claim any surplus funds from the sale within seven days of the sale, and
- eight days after the sale, the landlord will deliver any surplus funds to the government of the county where the property is located. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-25.9(g) (2021).)
See generally (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-25.9 (2021).)
Checking Terms of the Lease or Rental Agreement
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 North Carolina law, the lease or rental agreement cannot shorten the amount of time that you must store the property (five or seven days, depending on the circumstances). However, the terms of the lease or rental agreement could increase the legal time periods. For example, the lease could require the landlord to store the property for 10 days (not 5 or 7 days) before disposing of it.