Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property in Tennessee

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

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. Tennessee has specific laws for when and how landlords can get rid of a tenant’s abandoned personal property.

Determining Whether the Property Is Abandoned

Before getting rid of any personal property, landlords must first determine whether the property is, in fact, abandoned. Under Tennessee law, landlords can treat a rental as abandoned when the tenant:

  • has been gone from the rental unit for at least 30 days and has not paid rent, or
  • is at least 15 days late on rent and there are other signs of abandonment (like removal of most of personal items and the utilities being shut off).

(See Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-405 (2021).)

Also, any items left in the rental unit after an eviction are considered abandoned.

Notifying the Tenant

When the tenant has been absent from the rental for 30 days or more and has not paid rent, the landlord does not need to give the tenant notice before removing abandoned property.

When the tenant hasn't paid rent for 15 days and the landlord has other reason to believe the tenant has abandoned the property, the landlord must give notice. The landlord must post the notice at the rental and mail a copy of the notice to the rental's address. The notice must state that:

  • the landlord has reason to believe the rental unit is abandoned
  • the tenant has ten days to contact the landlord; after those ten days the landlord will enter and take possession of the unit
  • if the tenant does not contact the landlord within ten days, the landlord will remove the tenant’s possessions from the rental unit and re-rent the unit
  • the tenant will have another 30 days (after the first ten days have ended) to claim any property left behind at the rental unit or the landlord will dispose of the property, and
  • a telephone number and mailing address where the landlord can be contacted.

(See Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-405(b) (2021).)

When the tenant does not contact the landlord within ten days of receiving the notice, the landlord can remove the tenant’s belongings and place them in a storage unit. The landlord can charge the tenant for the storage fees (see Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-405(c) (2021)).

Disposing of Abandoned Property

When a tenant does not claim the abandoned property by the end of the 30-day period, the landlord can dispose of the property. The landlord can choose to sell the property, and can apply the proceeds of the sale toward fees the tenant owes, such as unpaid rent, storage unit fees, sale costs, and attorneys' fees. If there is any money left over after the landlord deducts these costs from the sales proceeds, the landlord must hold onto the money for at least six months after the sale. If the tenant does not claim the money within that time, the landlord can keep it. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-405(c) (2021).)

Checking Terms of the Lease or Rental Agreement

Before disposing of any property left behind by a tenant, landlords should check the terms of the lease or rental agreement concerning abandoned property. Under Tennessee law, the lease or rental agreement cannot shorten the amount of notice the landlord must give to the tenant. However, the terms of the lease or rental agreement can increase the notice period. For example, a lease could require the landlord to give the tenant a 45-day notice to claim abandoned property, instead of 30 days.

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