Handling a Tenant's Property in California: After an Eviction

Learn the rules landlords in California must follow to deal with property abandoned by a tenant after an eviction.

If you’ve won an eviction lawsuit in California, you may feel like tossing the tenant’s belongings out into the street. But California law sets out specific procedures for dealing with a tenant’s property after an eviction. For more information on dealing with a tenant’s abandoned property, see Handling a Tenant’s Abandoned Property in California.

The tenant was evicted but left property behind. Can I clear out those belongings myself?

Yes, but you can’t get rid of them right away. You need to make an inventory of the tenant’s property and then store the belongings in a safe and secure location (see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1986).

How long does the tenant have to reclaim the stored property?

The tenant has at least 15 days to reclaim the property. The tenant must pay you the storage and moving costs associated with keeping the property before taking the property out of your possession.

An important point to remember, though, is that if the tenant wants to claim the property within two days of being evicted and you did not remove the property from the rental unit during that time, then the tenant can take the property without paying you any additional costs (see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1987).

Do I need to notify the tenant before disposing of the tenant’s belongings?

Yes. You must send the tenant notice before disposing of or selling any of the tenant’s items. The notice must be in writing and should include the following information:

  • a description of the abandoned property
  • the location where the tenant can claim the property
  • the time frame that the tenant (or owner of the property) has to claim the property
  • a statement that reasonable storage costs will be charged to the tenant and the tenant must pay those costs before claiming the property, and
  • a statement that if the property is not claimed in time, it will either be sold or disposed of.

California provides you with a template to use when sending the tenant this notice (see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1984).

You can either mail this notice to the tenant’s last known address or personally deliver it to the tenant. If you mail the notice, then the tenant will have 18 days from the day the notice is mailed to claim the property. If the you deliver the notice to the tenant in person, then the tenant will have 15 days to claim the property (see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1983).

If I sell the tenant’s property, who gets the money?

If you decide to sell the tenant’s property, then you can first use the proceeds of the sale to pay for the costs of storing and moving the property and the costs of the sale itself. Any extra money must be given to the treasury of the county. The tenant will have one year to claim the money from the county treasury after the sale (see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1988).

When should I contact a lawyer?

A qualified lawyer can help you find and understand any rules that apply to your situation. It’s particularly wise to consult a lawyer if you think the abandoned property may be very valuable or if you have any reason to believe the tenant may cause problems later. A good lawyer can help protect you from claims that you have stolen or destroyed a tenant’s property.

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