Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property in Virginia

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

By , Attorney

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. Virginia 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 Virginia law, a landlord can treat a rental as abandoned when the lease or rental agreement has been terminated and the landlord has regained possession of the unit. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1254 (2021).)

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if tenants have moved out of the rental unit, or are simply traveling. In Virginia, a landlord who cannot determine whether the rental has been abandoned must serve a written notice on the tenant stating that the tenant has seven days to let the landlord know in writing that the tenant intends to remain in the rental. If the tenant does not respond within the seven days, the landlord can presume that the tenant has abandoned the rental. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1249 (2021).)

See below for information on handling abandoned property after an eviction in Virginia.

Notifying the Tenant

In all situations other than eviction, landlords must give tenants notice of their intent to dispose of any personal property left behind. Virginia law lays out ways landlords can fulfill the notice requirement:

  1. When the landlord terminated the tenancy: When a landlord gives a termination notice to the tenant (such as a notice to pay rent or quit, or a notice to cure or quit) and includes a statement in the notice that any personal property left behind will be disposed of within 24 hours, the landlord does not need to provide any further notice. However, the landlord must give the tenant reasonable access to retrieve property during the 24-hour notice period. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1254 (2021).) When a landlord has already given a tenant a termination notice, but didn't include the notice about abandoned property, the landlord can use the third method listed here to notify the tenant.
  2. When the landlord believes the tenants have abandoned the property. A landlord who has given the tenant a written seven-day notice to determine abandonment (as discussed in the previous section) that included a statement that any property left behind in the rental unit at the end of the seven days will be considered abandoned and will be disposed of within 24 hours of the end of the seven days does not need to give additional notice. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1254 (2021).)
  3. When options #1 and #2 don't apply. If it's too late for the landlord to give either of the first two notices, the landlord can give the tenant a separate ten-day notice. The notice should state that the landlord will dispose of any items left in the rental unit within 24 hours after the ten-day notice period has ended. If the tenants' personal property is still there after ten days, the landlord can dispose of the property. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1254.)

All of these notices must be written and contain the following information:

  • a statement that the landlord considers the property to be abandoned and the tenant must remove the property by the end of the notice period
  • where and when the tenant can claim the property, and
  • a statement that if the property is not removed, the landlord will either sell the property or dispose of it.

The notice can be either hand-delivered or mailed to the tenant at the tenant's last known address (which might be the rental unit). If it's allowed under the lease or rental agreement, the landlord can send the notice electronically. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1202 (2021).)

Property Left After an Eviction

When tenants are evicted, landlords do not have to give them special notice regarding their personal property. The sheriff (or other law enforcement officer carrying out the eviction) is in charge of removing the tenants' items from the rental. Usually the property is put in the "public way" (the street), unless the landlord requests that it be placed in a designated area. The tenants then have 24 hours after the eviction to retrieve their property. When the 24 hour period is up, the landlord will remove or dispose of any remaining items. (Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1255 (2021).)

Disposing of Abandoned Property

Regardless of the reasons for the tenants' departure, when they don't claim their personal property by the end of the 24-hour period, the landlord can dispose of it in any manner (including selling it or throwing it away). During the 24-hour period, the landlord is not liable for what happens to the tenants' property.

Landlords can use proceeds from any sale of abandoned property in the same manner they'd use the tenants' security deposit: To cover the costs of repairs or unpaid rent. (See Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1226 for information about Virginia security deposit laws.) Landlords can also use the funds to pay reasonable expenses they incur from selling, storing, or safekeeping the property. (See Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1255 for disposal after eviction, and Va. Code Ann. § 55.1-1254 for disposal after all other terminations.)

Checking Terms of the Lease or Rental Agreement

Before disposing of any property left behind by the tenant, landlords should check the terms of the lease or rental agreement concerning abandoned property. Under Virginia law, the lease or rental agreement cannot shorten the amount of notice the landlord must give the tenant. However, the terms of the lease or rental agreement could increase the notice period. For example, the lease could require the landlord to give the tenant a 15-day notice to claim abandoned property (rather than the ten-day notice required by law). When the lease or rental agreement provides for a greater notice period, the landlord must abide by its terms.

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