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 South Dakota 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. South Dakota 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.
You first need to figure out whether a tenant’s property is actually abandoned before you do anything with it. The only guidance that South Dakota law gives you to determine whether property is abandoned is that the tenant must have moved out of the rental unit. It can be easy to tell if the tenant has moved out if the tenant talked to you before moving and personally handed you the keys to the rental unit. It’s also easy to know that the tenant has moved if the tenant was evicted from the rental unit.
Sometimes, though, knowing whether the tenant is still living in the rental unit can be hard to figure out. When making the determination, you should consider things like whether the tenant is current on rent or utility payments, or whether any of the neighbors have seen the tenant in awhile. If you are unsure whether the tenant is still living in the rental unit (and especially if the tenant has not paid rent), then you might want to consider bringing an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. The Eviction Process in South Dakota: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers can help you.
Unlike many states, South Dakota does not require you to notify the tenant about abandoned property left at the rental unit. You are required to store the property for a certain number of days, though, before disposing of it.
If the total value of the property is less than $500, then you must store the property for at least ten days after the tenant has moved out. In this situation, you are not allowed to charge the tenant for storage fees. If the tenant returns to pick up the property during this ten-day period, you must make it available (see S.D. Codified Laws Ann. § 43-32-25).
If the total value of the property is worth $500 or more, then you must store the property for at least 30 days after the tenant has moved out of the rental unit. In this case, you can charge the tenant for the costs of moving and storing the property. If the tenant contacts you to pick up the property, then you must make it available to the tenant (see S.D. Codified Laws Ann. § 43-32-26).
If the tenant does not claim the property during the appropriate time frame, then you are free to dispose of it in any legal manner. If you choose to sell the property, then you should advertise for the sale at least a week in advance in a newspaper with local circulation. South Dakota law does not tell you what to do with the proceeds of the sale, but you should probably hold onto the proceeds for at least one year in case the tenant makes a claim for 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. The lease or rental agreement cannot change any of South Dakota’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 written notice before disposing of the tenant’s 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 South Dakota.