Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property in Vermont

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

When a tenant moves out of a 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 Vermont 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. Vermont 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.

It is important to note that this article does not discuss what to do with a tenant’s property after the tenant has been evicted. Vermont has different laws for dealing with abandoned property in that situation. To review those laws, seeVt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12 § 4854a.

Determining Whether the Property Is Abandoned

Before doing anything with a tenant’s personal property, you first need to determine whether the tenant has actually abandoned the property. If the tenant provided you with actual notice that he or she was moving and then moved out on the date specified, or if the tenant moved out of the rental unit because the lease or rental agreement ended, then any property left behind can be considered abandoned. In these cases only, you are allowed to immediately dispose of the property without notice to the tenant (see Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 9 § 4462(d)).

Sometimes, though, it may not be clear whether the tenant has moved out of the rental unit. Under Vermont law, you must consider three criteria when deciding whether the tenant has abandoned the rental unit:

  1. Under the circumstances, would a reasonable person believe that the tenant is no longer occupying the rental unit?
  2. Has the tenant failed to pay rent?
  3. Have you made reasonable efforts to determine whether the tenant moved out of the rental unit?

If you can answer “yes” to all of these questions, then you can consider the rental unit and any property left in it to be abandoned, and you must follow the rules set forth below when dealing with the tenant’s personal property (seeVt. Stat. Ann. tit. 9 § 4462(a)).

If you are unsure about whether the tenant is still occupying the unit (and especially if the tenant is not current on rent), you might want to consider bringing an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. The Eviction Process in Vermont: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers can help you decide if this is the right option for you.

Notifying the Tenant

Under Vermont law, you are allowed to move the tenant’s property to a safe and secure storage location, but you must send the tenant written notification allowing the tenant 60 days to claim the property before disposing of it. You must mail this notice to the tenant at the tenant’s last known address, even if that is the rental unit.

The notification must include the following information:

  • the name and address of the landlord
  • a statement that you consider the property to be abandoned and that the tenant has 60 days to claim the property or you will dispose of it, and
  • a statement that the tenant must pay for the costs of storage before claiming the property.

The tenant can claim the property by providing you with a description of the property and paying you the storage fees and any other fees you incurred while storing the property. You must allow the tenant reasonable access to the property during the 60-day period if the tenant has provided you with this information (see Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 9. § 4462(c)(1)).

Disposing of Abandoned Property

If the tenant does not claim the property during the 60-day period, then the property becomes yours, and you are allowed to do whatever you want with it. If you decide to sell the property, you can keep all of the proceeds of the sale (see Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 9 § 4462(c)(2)).

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 Vermont law, the lease or rental agreement cannot require you to do less than what is required under the law. However, the terms of the lease or rental agreement could require you to do more than what the law requires. For example, you might be required to give the tenant notice before disposing of the tenant’s property even if the tenant moved out of the rental unit because the lease or rental agreement expired (remember that under Vermont law, you are not required to give the tenant notice in this situation).

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 Vermont.

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