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.
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:
(See Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-405 (2021).)
Also, any items left in the rental unit after an eviction are considered abandoned.
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:
(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)).
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).)
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.