california abandoned property law

Most new landlords think that the most stressful part of their job is going to be dealing with trying eviction cases. In reality, however, other challenging issues may be even more frustrating. One example is abandoned property, and all landlords should be familiar with California abandoned property law if they’re renting housing in the state.

Abandoned property, or belongings left behind by former or evicted tenants, cannot be simply tossed out like some landlords might hope.

Instead, a certain process and holding period must be followed, or you could face legal trouble. Without the right knowledge, landlords could face huge fees or even court cases filed against them for simply doing what they feel is simply taking out the trash.

When is property considered abandoned in California, and what should landlords do to ensure they handle these personal belongings properly? Today, learn all that you need to know about this from the RentPrep guide to California abandoned property law.

A Table Of Contents On California Abandoned Property Law

Like many laws, those that dictate abandoned property vary by state. As a landlord working in California, it’s key to learn the state’s specific rules on what to do with items left behind by a tenant. Simply discarding these belongings isn’t always an option. Here’s what you can do:

What Is Abandoned Property?

What Is Abandoned Property?

The first thing landlords need to understand to handle this process is the definition of abandoned property. What exactly is abandoned property, and why do landlords need to know how to handle it properly?

When a tenant leaves a rental property due to eviction, abandonment, or the usual end of a lease period, any belongings left behind are known as abandoned property. These belongings are still the tenant’s personal property, but they have been left at your property.

Abandoned property is complicated because you cannot simply dispose of the items immediately. Instead, local and state laws dictate how you must store and dispose of these items in order to ensure that their rightful owner, the former tenant, has a chance to retrieve them if they wish to do so.

California Abandoned Property Law Explained

In California, belongings left behind in a unit after the lease has been terminated are considered to be abandoned. While you can remove things like rotting food or garbage, all other property must be inventoried and stored until the tenant has been contacted.

Landlords should send a notice to the tenant, letting them know that they need to come back for the items or let the landlord know their plan to remove them. If the tenant doesn’t respond to the notice within 18 days, the landlord can begin legal steps to remove, sell, and dispose of these belongings.

The landlord can claim any items worth less than $300. Items worth more than $300 must be sold at auction, and the proceeds will go to the county where the property is located. Landlords can, however, deduct reasonable costs they paid for storage and management of these sales.

Step By Step: What To Do When Property Is Abandoned

Handling this situation can be trying. Set yourself up with a step-by-step guide so that you know exactly what to do with abandoned property in California.

Step 1: Consider Why The Tenant Left

Confirm why the tenant left the property and what you need to do based on that information. If the lease was over and that is why they left, you’re good to move forward. If you ended the lease early and they are following those terms, you’re good to move forward. In other situations, such as eviction or the tenant simply leaving, you will need to ensure the lease is over before moving forward.

Step 2: Review The Lease

Does your lease include any terms about abandoned property?

If so, review this information to remember what you and the tenant agreed on. Local laws will still take precedence over the lease terms, but you want to be sure that you are doing what you and the tenant initially agreed to do.

If you don’t have any clauses in your lease about abandoned property, it might be a great time to add this to your rental lease template. Clarify what will happen when property is abandoned, who is responsible for storage and disposal costs, and how to claim abandoned property in California. This way, everyone is on the same page.

Step 3: Send Legal Notice

Now it’s time to send the former tenant notice of what was abandoned, where it’s being held, and what will happen to it and when.

This notice of abandoned property in California should be sent out as soon as possible, and you need to make sure to send it to the tenant as directly as possible. Additionally, it’s a good idea to post the notice on the door in case the tenant returns to the property.

Make sure to include the following:

  • List of inventoried items
  • Where the items will be held
  • What needs to happen for the items to be retrieved
  • What costs will be charged to the tenant for the storage of the items
  • What will happen if the tenants are not retrieved

Giving all of this information will ensure that you have legally protected yourself and that the tenant is fully informed on the abandoned property process. We recently teamed up with RocketLawyer to offer landlords a resource for free legal advice. Get your landlord advice here.

Step 4: Remove The Items

Once the notice period passes, you are free to remove the items. In California, you can keep any items that cost less than $300 to resell or dispose of at will. More expensive items must be sold at auction, and the profits will go to the county. This can easily be set up with a local bond agency, and the cost of doing so should be deducted from the sale proceeds.

Exceptions

You should not dispose of or sell two things: motor vehicles and permanent fixtures. Motor vehicles should be reported to the local police as abandoned, and they will handle things from there. Permanent fixtures installed at the property are yours to keep and do not need to be reported as they are now part of the rental property.

Preventative Tips: Avoiding Abandoned Property

As a landlord, it’s important to have a backup plan just in case your tenant decides to leave your rental property without notice.

#1: Document Everything

One of the most important things that you should remember to do throughout this process is to document everything. Photograph the belongings as they are found, stored, and otherwise handled. Additionally, be sure to keep copies of every notice and form that you utilize to ensure that you can prove you followed the appropriate steps when handling the belongings.

#2: Confirm The Property Is Abandoned

Preventative Tips: Avoiding Abandoned Property

If you’re dealing with property that was left behind after a tenant moved out and their lease ended, you are good to consider the property abandoned. However, it’s not always clear if the tenant has genuinely left, and you must take this into consideration.

Sometimes tenants will leave a property without notice. When this happens, you need to follow up with as many resources, such as emergency contacts, as possible to confirm the property is abandoned before you start handling it as such.

For example, a tenant who suddenly goes on a prolonged vacation or goes to jail is still technically a tenant as long as they did not break the lease terms. Make sure to take no action on any personal belongings until you have confirmed the property is abandoned and the lease has ended.

#3: It All Starts With Screening

While tenants who were great while living at the property may abandon their belongings without cleaning up, this situation is less likely to occur when you have great tenants in your rental units. The only way to ensure you end up with the right tenants is to ensure that you have the right screening practices.

Tenant screening can be complicated, but the process is easily simplified by utilizing third-party assistance like RentPrep’s tenant screening packages. These extensive packages offer a variety of options to landlords like you. Ensure you have the best tenants possible by thoroughly screening for any tenant you bring on.

Abandoned Property Law In California: FAQs

How does abandoned property get claimed in California?

In California, former tenants have 18 days to claim abandoned property after receiving notice from the landlord. After that time, there is no guarantee that they will be able to get their belongings back. The best thing tenants can do when they realize they want to claim their belongings is to contact the landlord and set up a plan ASAP.

When is personal property considered abandoned in California?

In California, personal property is considered abandoned after the landlord sends out an official notice and 18 days have passed. Until that time, the property should not be handled or disposed of other than to store the property in a safe, secure location.

If a tenant leaves the property without notice, this period may be longer because an eviction process to formally end the lease should occur first. The official 18-day notice period cannot begin until the lease is considered negated.

Can a landlord throw out personal belongings in California?

Landlords cannot throw out personal belongings in California until the proper abandoned property proceedings have been followed. First, the landlord must notify the tenant and give them 18 days to respond to that notice. If that 18 day period passes with no response, the landlord is then free to dispose of the items.

However, the value of the items will also play a part in what happens next. Items valued under $300 can be kept by the landlord, disposed of, or sold by the landlord.

Items valued above that amount must be sold at auction, and the majority of the proceeds should go to the state or county. The landlord can keep enough profits to cover the storage, organization, marketing, and cleaning of abandoned belongings.

How much can a landlord charge for cleaning in California?

The cost of cleaning must be reasonable and appropriate for the unit. Some rental units can be professionally cleaned for around $200; others will cost more. Landlords should always keep their detailed receipts when deducting cleaning expenses from security deposits so that they can prove the cleaning costs to be reasonable and necessary.

How long does a landlord have to store tenants’ belongings in California?

After a lease has ended, landlords must send notice and store tenants’ belongings for 18 days while waiting to hear from the tenant. If the tenant doesn’t respond within 18 days, landlords in California can begin selling or disposing of the items.

Abandoned Property: When You Can Finally Let It Go

Working as a landlord comes with many challenges, and part of the path to success is setting up systems to overcome them. Now that you know more about what to do when tenant belongings are left behind, you’re ready to create a plan that you can apply whenever faced with this situation.

Remember, the following is key when working within the binds of California abandoned property law:

  • Do not immediately dispose of items that tenants leave behind.
  • Make sure to contact tenants directly.
  • If tenants give you permission to dispose of items, make sure to have this in your records.
  • Store tenants’ belongings for the required amount of time before disposing of them.
  • Sell any valuable items to pay back rent; all other funds may need to be returned to the tenant.
  • Don’t forget to keep some of the funds to pay for storage costs and associated fees for handling the abandoned goods.

Once you become familiar with California’s personal property abandonment laws, it becomes easier. All that it takes is the prerequisite information to have you prepared, and you’ll be moving through these situations with ease.