Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property in North Carolina

Learn the rules landlords in North Carolina must follow to deal with property abandoned by a tenant.

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 North Carolina 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. North Carolina 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.

Determining Whether the Property Is Abandoned

When deciding what to do with property left behind at a rental unit, you must first make sure that the property and the rental unit have actually been abandoned by the tenant. According to North Carolina law, there are several ways you can determine whether property has been abandoned.

The first way is if you find clear evidence that the tenant voluntarily moved out of the rental unit after the lease or rental agreement expired. The second way you can determine abandonment is by posting notice of presumed abandonment both inside the rental unit and outside the rental unit. This notice must state that the landlord considers the rental unit to be abandoned and the tenant has ten days to prove otherwise. If you don’t hear from the tenant within ten days, then you can consider the property abandoned. The third way to determine abandonment is if the tenant moved out of the rental unit in response to an eviction (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-25.9(e)).

If the tenant has left behind personal property of value, even if you are sure the property and rental unit have been abandoned, you are going to have the most options for disposing of the property if you file an eviction lawsuit and get a writ of possession (this is a court order allowing a law enforcement officer to evict the tenant). It may seem counterintuitive if the tenant has already moved out of the rental unit, but under North Carolina law, the landlord is very limited on how to dispose of personal property that has been voluntarily abandoned by the tenant. However, if the tenant has been evicted, then the landlord has more options of how to dispose of the property. The North Carolina Association of Realtors provides some more advice on this topic, and How to Evict a Tenant in North Carolina also provides some useful information if you’re considering an eviction lawsuit.

Disposing of Abandoned Property

If you have determined that the property has been voluntarily abandoned and the property is worth less than $750, then the only option available to you is to donate the property to a nonprofit organization that provides free or nominally priced clothing and household furnishings to people in need. The organization must agree to store the property for at least 30 days and release the property to the tenant at no charge during that time, if the tenant claims the property. If you decide to do this, then you must post notice at the rental unit informing the tenant where the property will be located and that the tenant has 30 days to claim the property before it is used by the nonprofit organization. The notice must also be posted at the place where rent is received and mailed to the tenant’s last known address (see N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-25.9(d)).

If the property is worth more than $750, the law does not say what you must do with it. The best practice at that point would probably be to file an eviction lawsuit and obtain a writ of possession.

If the tenant moved out of the rental unit because of a writ of possession (or, alternatively, you have obtained a writ of possession in response to property of value left at the rental unit), then you can proceed with the option described above, or you can choose one of the following options.

If the tenant leaves property worth less than $500 at the rental unit after a writ of possession has been executed, then you must wait five days before disposing of the property. You are not required to notify the tenant of your intention to dispose of the property after five days, but if the tenant claims the property during those five days, then you are required to release the property to the tenant (see N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-29.9(h)).

If the property left at the rental unit after the execution of a writ of possession is worth more than $500, then you must wait seven days before selling or disposing of the property. You can move the property to a safe location if you want. If you decide to sell the property, then you must send a notice to the tenant informing the tenant that you intend to sell the property in seven days unless the tenant claims it. The notice must also contain the following information:

  • a detailed description of the property
  • the estimated value of the property
  • the location where the tenant can claim the property before the sale
  • the date, time, and location of the sale, and
  • a statement that any leftover proceeds of the sale (after fees for unpaid rent, damages, storage fees, and sale costs have been deducted) can be claimed by the tenant for up to seven days after the sale.

If the tenant does not claim the property during the seven-day notice period, then you can proceed with the sale. If the tenant does not claim the leftover proceeds of the sale, then you must give those proceeds to the county government (see N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-29.9(g)).

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). However, the terms of the lease or rental agreement could increase the legal time periods (for example, your lease could require you to store the property for 10 days (not 5 or 7 days) before disposing of it).

When to Contact a Lawyer

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 North Carolina.

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