Upon termination of the tenancy, whether at the end of the lease term or otherwise, the Landlord expects the Tenant to vacate the rental premises, leave the premises clean and in good condition, and as a part of same to remove all of the Tenant’s personal property. Quite often that is not the case.
A Landlord may find that the Tenant appears to have abandoned unwanted personal property on the rental premises in various circumstances. These circumstances include, but not by exclusion, expiration of the lease term when the Tenant appears to have moved but leaves various items of furniture in the garage or home, and the situation where the Tenant, during the term of the lease, appears to have vacated the premises and abandoned various types of personal property in the apartment. Can the Landlord take possession of the rental premises in these circumstances? Is the Landlord liable for the value of the personal property if the Landlord disposes of it as trash? Can the Landlord protect itself from the risk of that liability?
If the rental premises and any personal property are “abandoned”, Landlord may take possession of the premises and may dispose of the personal property. Whether the Tenant has vacated the rental premises and abandoned the personal property is a question of intent. Did the Tenant “intend” to vacate the premises and abandon the personal property, releasing any claim to title to it? Will the Tenant later claim to simply have left the area due to an unexpected death in the family, intending to return and resume occupancy of the rental premises and/or remove the personal property? If the latter, but while gone the Landlord retakes possession of the rental premises and disposes of the personal property, the Landlord may be liable in damages to Tenant for wrongful eviction and conversion.
A Landlord may wish and have a means to protect itself from the risk of liability in some circumstances. Under Missouri law, the rental premises, and the personal property left on it, is deemed abandoned if each of the following four (4) requirements are satisfied.
(1.) Landlord reasonably believes the Tenant has vacated the premises and does not intend to return. Did Tenant notify the Landlord that Tenant was leaving town for a brief period? Did Tenant tell neighbors that Tenant was leaving town for a short time? Have the utility services been terminated by the utility provider? Landlord must perform a reasonable investigation, should document everything, and must remember that any court later looking at the matter will have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
(2.) The Tenant has failed to pay rent for thirty (30) days or more. Landlord’s records should be complete, reflecting all rent that has accrued and each payment received by date and amount.
(3.) The Landlord posts and mails to the Tenant, in the manner required, a notice in the proper form notifying the Tenant of #1 and #2 above, and further notifying the Tenant that unless within ten (10) days the Tenant pays the rent due or responds that the Tenant has not abandoned the rental premises that the Landlord will declare the rental premises and the personal property abandoned and will remove and dispose of the personal property. A notice that is not in the proper form, or not posted and delivered properly, will likely be determined to not satisfy this requirement.
(4.) The Tenant fails to pay rent or respond within ten (10) days after the proper posting and mailing of the notice.
If all of the requirements are fully satisfied, Landlord may remove and dispose of the personal property without liability to Tenant. This statute provides no protection, however, from a claim of third parties, such as a parent that claims ownership, a company that rented the appliances or furnishings to the Tenant, or a company that sold them to Tenant and has a properly perfected security interest. Accordingly, Landlord must carefully examine the items thought abandoned, and any public records, for evidence of ownership or a properly perfected lien.
If the Tenant returns and makes a claim, Landlord can expect that a court will review carefully each of the requirements and Landlord’s attempt to satisfy them. Failure by Landlord to satisfy a requirement may result in the Landlord being held liable for damages and not receiving the benefit of the protection the statute was intended to provide. Accordingly, legal advice should be sought.
At the Thurman Law Firm, we represent many Landlords and have substantial experience in legal issues faced by Landlords. Upon employment by you, we will be happy to discuss with you the legal issues of which you have concern, or to discuss with you the facts and circumstances presented and to advise you concerning legal issues which may be involved in the matter.