Q: I recently married and moved out of my apartment, but I forgot to take some items when I left. When I got back from our honeymoon, I tried contacting the property manager, with no luck. Several wedding gifts are also missing. How can I get my stuff back? Can they just toss my things out?
A: You have two problems to solve. First, the missing gifts. Be sure you put in a forwarding order with the U.S. Postal Service. Forwarding requests can be made online at www.usps.com. Click “Change of Address” and follow the guide. There is also a “Redelivery Service” link, which may help you recover some of the wedding gifts.
As for forgetting items in the apartment, you’re not alone, since renters leave belongings behind quite often. As a result, there are specific procedures for both landlords and tenants for handling the problem in most states. Property or possessions may be considered abandoned by a tenant, depending on individual state law, which can be found online through either the Department of Consumer Affairs or Attorney General’s Office in the state where the rental is located.
Can a landlord legally keep tenant possessions or throw them out after move-out? Depends on how they handled the matter. They certainly can’t just toss your things into the closest trash bin on a whim. When property is left behind, the landlord has a set of rules to follow before tossing the goods.
Most states impose a minimum waiting period, depending on the dollar limit of the goods. If the property is worth less than $100, most provisions allow the landlord to wait two weeks or so for a tenant response, and then dispose of the property. More valuable items usually are granted more time to be retrieved.
For example, Nevada requires “safe storage” of all personal property, regardless of value, be provided for 30 days after the abandonment. After giving proper written notice to the tenant’s last known address, another 14 days must pass before the landlord can dispose of the goods.
What if more than one former tenant wants the same property returned? For example, two roommates both request the same bicycle be returned. Who should be given the item without the other being taken for a ride? Usually, the first tenant to reclaim the item is the winner. Assuming the tenant followed the proper rules, the landlord is under no obligation to play sleuth and figure out who the true owner may be.
No matter what the situation, the landlord’s written notice must be sent to the former tenant or tenants’ last known address. A description of the property must be in sufficient detail for the owner to confirm ownership. Boxed possessions (such as wedding gifts) don’t need to be opened by the landlord, simply referred to as “container goods.” A deadline to retrieve the items must be included, and any storage charges or moving charges to be paid by the tenant before property is released must be mentioned. Finally, where and when to pick up the things must be explained.
How can you get your things back? Assuming the landlord didn’t contact you or respond, sending the landlord or property manager written notice about your forgotten items is a must. If for some reason things cannot be removed in time or have been left behind, you have an obligation to address the landlord with the situation.
Write a dated letter, which should include your full name and new address. Also include the address of your former apartment. Explain briefly that you were unable to remove all your belongings before leaving the apartment, listing the specific items that were left behind. Below the list, include the following, “Please be aware that I have not abandoned this property, and I intend to return for these things.” Give a specific date when you plan to come back and retrieve the items and range of time, such as between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. Include, “If you prefer a different date or time, please contact me.”
Be sure to send the letter by certified mail — return receipt requested — as proof of the mailing. Follow up with a phone call, too. Even if you don’t get a response, keep your written promise and drop by to reclaim your items. If you can’t get in, leave a written note. Hopefully the letter will clear the way to get back your possessions. If you there’s no response, and you held up your end of the bargain, you may want to contact an attorney for legal advice on how to proceed.