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Handling Items Left Behind in a Residential Rental Property

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Sometimes tenants leave items behind. What’s the landlord’s responsibility? Read this before hauling their things away.

Many residential property managers and landlords have probably (unfortunately) experienced the following fact scenario: Several months after having entered into a written residential lease and long before the lease term expires, the tenant, who had already failed to pay rent, abandons the dwelling. Upon entering the dwelling the landlord discovers that some of the tenant’s personal property remains; repeated attempts are made to contact the tenant without success—the tenant failed to leave any forwarding address.

Phone calls go unanswered. The landlord, who is already facing the prospect of lost rent revenue, wants to re-let the dwelling as soon as possible but isn’t sure what he or she can do with the personal property left behind by this former tenant. The landlord doesn’t want to do anything that would result in him or her having potential liability to the tenant. Under Florida law what are the landlord’s rights and obligations? 

The Residential Landlord and Tenant Act
Section 83.67(5) of the Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act provides some guidance. It allows the landlord to include a waiver in the rental agreement or a written agreement separate from the rental agreement so that upon surrender or abandonment by the tenant, the landlord is: 1) not liable or responsible for storage or disposition of the tenant’s personal property and 2) is not required to send any written notice to the tenant advising the tenant of his or her right to reclaim the property [this notice will be discussed below.] That statute stipulates that, if the waiver is to be included in the rental agreement, it must be printed or clearly stamped in the following form:

BY SIGNING THIS RENTAL AGREEMENT, THE TENANT AGREES THAT UPON SURRENDER OR ABANDONMENT, AS DEFINED BY CHAPTER 83, FLORIDA STATUTES, THE LANDLORD SHALL NOT BE LIABLE OR RESPONSIBLE FOR STORAGE OR DISPOSITION OF THE TENANT’S PERSONAL PROPERTY.

But what if the landlord failed to include this waiver in his or her written lease and there was no separate written agreement with the tenant that included similar language?  

Disposition of Personal Property Statutes
Sections 715.10-715.111, Florida Statutes (“Disposition of Personal Property Landlord and Tenant Act” hereinafter “Act”) outlines a procedure for the landlord to follow where personal property remains on the premises after a tenancy has been terminated or expired and the premises have been vacated by the tenant through eviction, surrender, abandonment or otherwise. The landlord should comply with the requirements of the Act in order to avoid future liability to the tenant where, as in the fact scenario described above, the tenant abandoned the dwelling and the landlord failed to include the waiver outlined in Section 83.67(5) in either the rental agreement or separate written agreement.

In general, the Act permits the landlord to either leave the former tenant’s personal property in the dwelling or to remove it and store it and requires the landlord to provide written notice by personal delivery or by first-class mail to the former tenant (or to any other person the landlord reasonably believes to be the owner of the abandoned personal property) advising the tenant of his or her right to reclaim the personal property. It must also advise the tenant, if the property is not reclaimed timely, what the landlord intends to do with the property.

The form of the notice that should be sent to the former tenant is included in Section 715.105. It must: 1) give the description of leased premises; 2) give a description of the personal property in a manner “reasonably adequate” to permit the owner of the personal property to identify it; 3) state the date when the personal property must be reclaimed from the landlord (not less than 10 days after the notice is personally delivered, or if mailed, not less than 15 days after the notice is deposited in the mail); 4) state the place where the personal property is to be reclaimed; and 5) state that if the tenant does not reclaim the personal property and pay the reasonable cost of storage within the time specified in the notice that the landlord may:

Sell the property at public auction, if all of the personal property is believed to be worth more than $500. If the property is sold proceeds will be applied to the cost of storage, sale and advertising and any surplus will be paid to the county. The tenant has one year from date of payment of any surplus to the county to reclaim the surplus.
Keep, sell or destroy the property if all of the personal property is believed to be worth less than $500.

Questions? Call FAR’s Legal Hotline, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 407.438.1400. Please have your license number available when you call.
Attention Licensees

A new advertising requirement for Florida real estate licensees will soon disappear. The disappearing requirement stated that the phone number of a brokerage must be on all advertisements. But at the Oct. 17 Florida Real Estate Commission workshop, Commissioners, listening to comments from the industry and Division of Real Estate staff, decided that the new language was not necessary.

At press time, Commissioners expected to officially remove the requirement in November. The phone requirement was part of a larger advertising rule that otherwise remains in effect.

Questions? Call FAR’s Legal Hotline at 407.438.1409, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Please have your real estate license number available when you call.