Cameron Cowan | Knowledge Steward
Your tenant has left. This can be at the end of the lease or an abandonment. You may have gotten the keys back or not. You open up the unit to inspect and clean it and you find stuff! It can be in boxes, bags or just junk strewn about. This can especially be a problem after an eviction. Dealing with items left behind by a tenant is probably one of the most common landlord problems. However, handling these items is not as simple as packing them up and dumping them into a dumpster. There are specific rules governing the tenant’s items. It might seem like trouble to deal with the previous tenant’s items, but with a quick notice to the tenant and a little bit of work, you can get your rental ready to lease again and be in compliance with your legal responsibilities.
Here's how to deal with items left behind by your tenants. These rules apply for end of lease, evictions, and abandonment of the tenancy. There are specific rules in Washington for this situation.
The Landlord is responsible to move and store the tenant’s items for a period of time (at the tenant’s expense). The time is dependent on how much the items are worth. If the total value of the items is less than $250 than a period of 7 days from the date notice is delivered to the tenant is required. If the value is over $250 or the items are of a personal nature like photos and keepsakes then the landlord must hold the items for 45 days after the notice to the tenant.
After the notice period has elapsed, the landlord can sell or dispense with the items. If you sell the items, you can keep any money to cover costs of storage and transporting the items. Any remaining money must be held for 1-year. If, after 1-year, the tenant does not make a claim on the money the landlord is permitted to keep the remaining balance. The best practice is to work with your tenant and try to get those items to them as fast as possible.
Cars and boats can be towed away and impounded at the owner's expense by the state patrol. Call them on the non-emergency line and they will have the vehicles taken away.
To serve notice to the tenant and begin the waiting process use our Storage of Tenant's Personal Property notice from RHAWA.org. It's available to members for free in a downloadable PDF. Helpful forms like this are a great benefit of RHAWA membership!
Dealing with your tenants left behind items can be nuisance. But with our form and some work, you can re-rent in no time. This situation is common but it's helpful to think about how you would want your personal items to be treated. Even though someone has left some items behind, it doesn't mean that the situation can't come to a happy conclusion with a return of the items to their rightful owner.
If you need more help, email the RHAWA resource desk: firstname.lastname@example.org