Disposing of a Former Unit Owner’s Abandoned Personal Property

January 27th, 2020 | Community Association Law Blog

By Cheryl Siegel, Esq.

Unit Owner X hasn’t paid common expenses to your Condominium Association in years. You’ve obtained a judgment against him, but he has no personal assets of value from which the judgment can be satisfied. So you levy on the unit, send it to Sheriff’s sale and buy it back in the name of the Association, and he finally vacates it … but also leaves behind a big mess. Clothes, old furniture, books. You are eager to toss them all out, so the unit can be cleaned and rented to a paying tenant. Can you do that? Not so fast.

As the legal owner of the unit, the Association must comply with the requirements that landlords must follow in disposing of personal belongings left behind by a tenant. By law, a landlord may dispose of a former tenant’s personal belongings only if the landlord reasonably believes that the tenant has no intention of asserting any further claims to those personal belongings. The landlord must first give written notice to the tenant, and must adhere to certain specific details on how to provide that notice. It must be sent:

• by certified mail, return receipt requested
• to the tenant’s last known address, and any alternate address(es) known to the landlord
• in an envelope endorsed with the words “Please Forward”

The notice to the tenant also must contain specific language. It must state that the property is considered abandoned and must be removed from the premises by a date not less than 30 days after delivery of the notice, or not less than 33 days after the date of mailing, whichever comes first. The notice must also state that if the abandoned property is not removed by that date, the landlord may sell the property at a public or private sale, or destroy or dispose of the property if the costs to conduct that sale will exceed the value of the property.

What should you do with the personal belongings in the interim? Store them in a place of safekeeping, and then you are entitled to be paid for reasonable storage charges. (Not terribly comforting, we know. If Unit Owner X truly abandoned his unit, he does not likely want his belongings back, and you will be stuck paying for the storage charges until it’s disposal time).

This all may sound like a lot of work on your part to throw away “junk”. But cutting corners on these details may expose you to a claim by Unit Owner X that he was planning on retrieving his belongings, and that you have improperly discarded his “valuable” possessions.

Be sure to keep a log, and take photographs, room by room, of every item that you ultimately sell or discard. This way, you have proof that it was old sweaters and shoes that were left behind, and not artwork or a 2-carat diamond ring.

What about rotting perishable food? No need to store that.

Abandoned pets? Contact your local animal control shelter.

And of course, please don’t hesitate to call us for advice before disposing of any personal property left behind by a former unit owner – you’ll be glad you did.