Abandoned Property

Storage of Abandoned Residential Property

Understanding How to Dispose of Abandoned Property


What should a landlord do with abandoned property?


Abandoned Property
Abandoned Property

After a Sheriff’s lockout (see, San Jose Eviction Process“), it is unusual that valuable property is left behind.  People usually take valuable property with them when they leave.  If, however, this occurs, landlords must follow certain legal procedures and keep any personal property left behind safe and secure or they may be liable for someone else’s folly.


lost or Abandoned property


The landlord must first determine how to categorize the property left behind.  Property that is considered “lost” must be returned to its rightful owner, or at least an attempt to return the lost items.  Property that is considered “abandoned” must be kept safe and secure for a period of time.


For property to be considered abandoned: a) tenancy must have terminated, and b) the premises must have been vacated by the tenant.  It is not enough that the tenant does not live at the premises; tenancy must have also ended by way of abandonment, termination of the lease, or by eviction.  If the tenant has moved out of the renal unit and the tenancy has been terminated, then you can consider any property left behind at the rental unit to be abandoned.


If, however, property is lost the landlord must try to return it to its rightful owner.  To be considered lost instead of abandoned, the owner of the property must not have intended to leave the property.  Intent is determined by the value of the item left and its likelihood it would be left behind.


Notice Requirement


When evicting on a 30-day or 60-day notice, the landlord must disclose the following:

Required Statutory Disclosure – right to reclaim abandoned property under C.C.P. § 1946.1(h).

“State law permits former tenants to reclaim abandoned personal property left at the former address of the tenant, subject to certain conditions.  You may or may not be able to reclaim property without incurring additional costs, depending on the cost of storing the property and the length of time before it is reclaimed.  In general, these costs will be lower the sooner you contact your former landlord after being notified that property belonging to you was left behind after you moved out.”


Three-day window


Tenants have a three-day window to retrieve any personal property that is left behind, free of storage fees.  If property is left behind more than three days, the tenant is responsible for any reasonable cost of storing the property.


If the total value of personal property left behind is $700 or more, the landlord must inventory each item and must keep it safe and secure for the required time period.  It is good practice to take pictures and make an itemized list.


Notice Requirement for Abandoned Property


There are two different code sections in the California law book that pertains to noticing disposal of personal property left behind in a rental unit. 


Typically, if personal property is left behind, the landlord will notify the tenant of abandoned property under a §1983 Notice (Landlord’s Request).  The notice should include:


  • Description of the abandoned property, so as to be identifiable
  • 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.


However, a tenant may want to notify the landlord of abandoned property under a §1965 Notice (Tenant’s Request).  The primary benefit of doing so is that if the landlord does not comply under this, the tenant may collect damages, up to $250 per day.  The tenant should use this if he or she believes that the landlord is using personal property as hostage for past due rent, which is illegal.  If the tenant sends a §1965 Notice, the landlord must respond, with an itemized list of costs, within 5 days of receiving the notice from the tenant.  The tenant must then remove the property within 72 hours of paying reasonable storage and moving costs.  However, the §1965 Notice cannot be used if a §1983 Notice has already been sent.


Waiting Period


Notice can be made by personal service (handing the notice directly to the tenant), by mail, or by e-mail.  If notice is sent by e-mail or by mail, one copy must also be sent to the vacated address.  (See, “Service of Process in Eviction Lawsuits“)


If notice is personally served, there is a 15-day waiting period before disposal.  If the notice is mailed, an extra three days are added for an 18-day waiting period.  


It is also a good idea to check the lease to see if any lease provision extends this waiting period.


Dispose of abandoned property


If the property is worth less than $700, then you don’t have to sell the property. You can either keep it for your own use or dispose of it in any legal manner.


If the property is worth more than $700, the property must either 1) be given to the Sheriff Department or 2) sold at auction.  The Sheriff Department most like will not accept the abandoned property, so the property will have to be sold at auction.  To do so, the auction must be advertised and any proceeds, beyond recovering costs, goes to the State.  If a landlord finds his or herself in this situation, it is recommended that he or she hire a company, that disposes of abandoned property, to do so for them instead.  It is work with no pay.