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Can You Sell Items Left Behind by a Tenant?

Check State Laws Regarding Disposal of Ex-Tenants' Assets

When tenants vacate a property, many times they leave personal items behind for various reasons. If a tenant has been evicted with a notice to quit for owing rent and has left items behind, it is a tempting proposition for the landlord to sell the personal items to cover the money the tenant owed in back rent. While this is possible in some states, there are severe penalties for this in others, and the landlord would do well to research the particular law in their area of the country.

When Tenants' Belongings Can Be Sold

In some states where this process is legal, there are very specific steps that must be taken in order to ensure the sale of the tenants' items is performed in a legal manner.

Protection from Financial Damages

Many states grant landlords an automatic lien on articles left behind by tenants in order to protect the landlord from financial damages when a tenant fails to pay rent or breaks the lease agreement.

Many times, even if the landlord obtains a court judgment against the tenant, they might be required to post notices in the local newspaper detailing their intent to sell the tenants' items. Even if all the proper steps are followed, some personal items still cannot be sold according to the individual state statutes.

Requirement to Locate Ex-Tenants before Disposal of Property

Most states have provisions set up that allow a landlord to recoup financial losses in some manner, including allowing the sale of a tenant's personal items. However, it is vital that the landlord have a complete understanding of the legal steps that must be taken prior to enforcing their right to sell property. In many cases, if the steps are not taken precisely, the landlord can be subject to serious liability. Many states require the landlord to spend a specific amount of effort to locate the tenant and notify them of the intent to sell their personal belongings to cover back rent owed on the lease agreement.


Still other states require the landlord to properly store abandoned property for a certain period of time or they require the landlord to dispose of the abandoned property in a certain manner rather than sell it. Each state has a different statute and set of procedures in place that every landlord should familiarize themselves with to prevent conflicting with the law when dealing with a tenant's abandoned property.