San Francisco has a ton of rental properties: more than half of us rent our homes. With all of these tenants comes the inevitable need for a tenant cleanout when a tenant leaves personal belongings behind. While we’d love to fly right over and load up this abandoned stuff for you, you’ve got some administrative loose ends to tie up first.
Tenants are allowed a sort of grace period after the lease ends where they can retrieve belongings. This period starts when you mail out an inventory of the property you’ve found and a letter explaining that the renter must contact you within 18 days so you can discuss disposal of the property. Once the renter has responded, you will both agree upon a “reasonable” amount of time for the former tenant to pick up larger items, like furniture. Former renters have only 72 hours to retrieve smaller items like clocks, phones, hairdryers, and the like.
Renters will also have to reimburse you for the fair market cost of storing and/or moving the items.
Note: Cars are different.
Cars do not fall under the same rules as the property that is inside the rental home.
Of course, if the lease is still active, but you just haven’t heard from the tenant, you’ve got to figure out what’s going on. A missing or even deceased tenant does not automatically terminate a lease – it remains active.
First, figure out what happened to cause the tenant cleanout
If the lease naturally ended and your tenant moved out, great. That’s pretty simple. If, however, you believe your tenant has abandoned the property, or you know the tenant is ill or passed away, your first step is either to call emergency contacts, or, in the case of a body found or potential missing person, call the police. Once you know what’s going on, you can move to the next step.
Prepare an inventory and approximate value if the abandoned belongings. This will be included in a notice that you’ll mail to your tenant, the tenant’s estate/executor, or next of kin. In order to write your letter, you’ll need to generate an itemized list of everything left behind, and that means going into the unit to go through these items. It’s awkward at best, and a liability every time. To reduce the likelihood of you being accused of wrongdoing, have someone go with you to the rental unit, and take video and photographs. That establishes a timeline for when things were found, damaged, or went missing before your tenant cleanout.
Store the tenant cleanout items securely
By law, it’s your duty to ensure that the renter’s personal property (including pets) is safe and properly stored or cared for. Keep track of costs associated with caring for someone’s pet and storing belongings so you may be reimbursed later (at least partly). You may bill your previous tenant for the cost of caring for that property, or it may be sold under certain circumstances. Take care of any abandoned pets! Do not just dump them at the shelter or leave them to fend for themselves.
Send out the notices
Now that the property is safe and invoiced, send written notice to next of kin, emergency contacts, and any addresses you have for the tenant. Explain that they have 18 days to respond to the tenant cleanout letter(s) that you’ve sent, and that the two of you will discuss a reasonable timeframe for retrieval of the items. In the interim, you do NOT need to leave the property in the rental unit. You’re obligated to keep it safe and secure, not to indefinitely hold your rental unit hostage. You may move it to a storage area, garage, or rented space. Again, keep track of costs associated with the abandoned items.
Having trouble tracking the tenant down? Remember, file a police report if the tenant appears to be missing or things are otherwise amiss.
Selling Items Abandoned by the Tenant
If you have done your best and the tenant has not responded within 18 days of sending the notice, you may sell the property. If the collection of items is worth less than $700, you can keep sell, or discard as you like; however, if the collection of items is worth more than that, you must surrender it to the county. Petition the county for the right to be reimbursed from the sale of the items so that you may recoup costs associated with storage and removal.
Watch the Costs!
You can only charge fair market rates to the tenant when recouping costs. No price-gouging! If you remove and store the items yourself, you may still charge for that, but only the average cost in your area. Remember, too, that you might not see full reimbursement, so don’t go extravagant! You can likely keep the security deposit and can present a bill to your former tenants, or sell the items at auction, but nothing’s ever guaranteed.
Tenants Have Rights
Landlords must be cognizant of their tenant’s rights and abilities. Do not do anything that unduly burdens renters from claiming their property. Accordingly, you shall not move the renter’s property unreasonably far away, such as an out-of-state storage facility.
We can help!
Have items in a storage unit or in the rental property? Both? We will come out to more than one location for you. Just let us know your needs and we’ll work with you. At least one part of this process will be easy. Call West Coast Junk today at (510) 421-1730, or use our online booking tool.