When a tenant moves out of your rental unit, 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 Utah 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. Utah 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.
This article does not cover what to do with a tenant’s property after the tenant has been evicted. Utah state law has different rules and procedures for you to follow after an eviction. If you would like to review those rules, see Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-812.
Before getting rid of any of the tenant’s property, you first need to determine whether the property and the rental unit are actually abandoned. Utah law allows you to presume that the tenant has abandoned the premises in two situations:
If you are unsure whether the tenant has actually abandoned the rental unit, then you might want to consider bringing an eviction lawsuit against the tenant in order to gain legal possession of the rental unit. The Eviction Process in Utah: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers will provide you with some useful information.
Once you have determined that the rental unit and the tenant’s personal property are abandoned, then you must notify the tenant. (You are allowed to move the tenant’s personal property to a safe and secure location.) The notification must be in writing and should include the following information:
You must post this notice in a conspicuous place at the rental unit and also mail the notice to the tenant at the tenant’s last known address (see Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-816(2)).
If the tenant has not claimed the property within 15 days, then you can sell the property, donate it to charity, or legally dispose of it. If you decide to sell the property, then you must send notice of the sale to the tenant’s last known address at least five days before the date of the sale.
If the tenant shows up to the sale, then you are only allowed to sell enough of the tenant’s property as necessary to cover any fees the tenant owes you (including unpaid rent, damages to the rental unit, and the fees associated with storing and selling the property). The tenant can also tell you in which order to sell the personal property. Once you’ve sold enough to satisfy the tenant’s debt to you, then you must release the rest of the property to the tenant.
If the tenant does not show up to the sale, then there are no restrictions placed upon you. You can sell all of the tenant’s property and use the proceeds to pay for any fees the tenant owes you. If there is money left over, then you must send it to the tenant (if you know where the tenant is). If you do not know how to find the tenant, then you must follow the rules set forth in Utah’s Unclaimed Property Act.
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 Utah law, the lease or rental agreement cannot shorten the amount of notice you must give to the tenant. However, the terms of the lease or rental agreement could increase the notice period. For example, your lease could require you to give the tenant 30 days to claim abandoned property, instead of 15 days.
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 Utah.