5 Key Steps to Take When a Tenant Leaves Belongings Behind

There is nothing more inconvenient than having a tenant who suddenly disappears without paying and leaving belongings behind. When confronted with this situation, it’s easy to toss those items out and find a new tenant as soon as possible. However, you must not resort to this action right away. As a property owner or manager, keep in mind that there are strict protocols to follow in dealing with this case. Likewise, you have to ensure that you take the right steps to avoid tenant’s complaints and facing legal implications.

In this article, we’ll share with you five crucial steps to take when your tenant suddenly disappears with their belongings left behind:

1. Check your state laws and know the legal protocols

You have to know that laws on tenant abandoned property vary from one state to another. This is why it’s essential to be well-acquainted with your state laws and understand what strict protocols to follow to avoid legal implications. When it comes to this, below are three points to consider:

  • Abandonment method: Assess if the tenant left at the end of their lease, was evicted, or disappeared without paying rent and see what the laws have to say.
  • Possession handling restrictions: Be sure to know some limitations as far as the handling of items are concerned.
  • Timeframe: Know when you are allowed to dispose of the items, as many states set minimum time limits.

2. Have proper packing with a neutral witness on the unit

As a rule of thumb, it’s safe to pack all the items properly instead of merely throwing them. Also, it’s better to have a place for storage in cases like this. While you’re at it, be sure to have a neutral witness seeing how you are handling the abandoned tenant’s possessions. You can tap a neighbor or a friend with no financial stake to serve as a witness for this packing and storage process.

3. Properly document and store the items

In line with the point above, it helps to itemize, take photos, and keep the possessions properly. How do you do this? First, come up with a list of every item you packed. Second, take photos of the items you’re packing that clearly show their conditions. Third, be sure to store them safely nearby, such as in paid storage, unit’s garage, or basement. Finally, make sure to keep records of all related costs.

4. Send a written notice of abandoned property

A crucial aspect of the overall equation is to send a written notice of abandoned property. Along with this are documents showing the itemized list and photos, deadline and legal information, storage location and costs, and the aftermath of unclaimed property. Once this has been sent, set a deadline before making the next moves. If you haven’t received any response from the tenant, you can then take the next course of action––removing the items.

5. Deduct the costs from the security deposit

Keep in mind that all costs related to the abandoned property can be deducted from the security deposit. Just be sure to have an itemized list of all items and services to be charged.


At this point, you now know how to proceed when a tenant disappears and leaves their belongings behind. As discussed above, be sure to check your state laws, perform proper packing with a neutral witness, properly document and store the items, send a written notice, and charge the security deposit costs. 

With all these proper steps in place, you’ll be sure to handle the situation legally and properly for your own protection. Ultimately, it’s best to hire a property management company that can manage your property and help you out in situations like this!

We’re a full-service real estate management company in Jacksonville, FL, specializing in commercial and residential property management. Whether you’re buying or selling a house, or need someone to manage your property, get in touch with us today to see how we can help!