At the expiration, abandonment or termination of a tenancy, tenants often leave personal property behind. Landlords may be tempted to immediately sell or dispose of the abandoned personal property, but doing so can expose them to liability. Any personal property left behind should be left on the premises or stored safely by the landlord. Moreover, the landlord must exercise reasonable care in storing the abandoned personal property.
Florida Statutes Chapter 715 establishes procedural requirements that must be followed, with two exceptions, to legally dispose of abandoned personal property after a tenancy. The statute applies to all residential, commercial, and mobile home tenancies after issuance of a writ of possession. In order to avoid potential liability, the procedures in Chapter 715 may also be used by parties that may not have a traditional landlord/tenant relationship, but a departed occupant has left unwanted property.
The statute first requires the landlord to notify the tenant, and any other person who the landlord reasonably believes is the owner of the property, that such property remains on the premises. The notice should describe all of the property left on the premises. The description should be detailed enough so that the owner of the property can identify it. The notice must also:
- be in writing and sent by first-class mail, postage prepared to the tenant’s last known address, and any other address the landlord reasonably believes the tenant would receive the notice.
- notify the owner where the property is being stored if not on the leased premises;
- notify the owner that reasonable costs for storage may be charged before the property is returned;
- include specific information as to where the property may be claimed;
- include a deadline to claim the property (at least ten or fifteen days depending on how the notice is served); and
- state how the property will be disposed of should the owner fail to claim the property.
If the owner of the property, or anyone reasonably believed to be the owner of the property, pays the costs of storage and acts to take possession of the property on or before the date specified in the notice, the landlord should release the property. If no one acts to take possession of the property, and the value of the property is believed to exceed $500.00, the landlord may sell it at public sale.
Before the sale may occur, notice should be published once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation where the sale is to be held. The advertisement should include the name of the former tenant, description of the property to be sold, and the time and place of the sale.
The landlord is permitted to bid at the public sale. After the costs of storage, advertising, and the sale have been deducted from the proceeds of the sale, the balance may be claimed by tenant or property owner within thirty (30) days. If funds are not claimed, they must be paid into the county registry. At that time, the landlord would be relieved of any further obligations for the abandon property. The successful bidder’s title to the property is subject to ownership rights, liens, and security interest which have priority by law.
If the landlord reasonably believes that the abandoned property is estimated to be worth less than $500.00, the landlord may retain the property for personal use or dispose of the property as they see fit.
There are two general exceptions to the above requirements. The first is found in Florida Statute §83.67, which provides that if the following statement is written in the lease agreement the landlord does not have to provide any notice and is not liable for storage or disposition of the tenant’s personal property:
BY SIGNING THIS RENTAL AGREEMENT, THE TENANT AGREES THAT UPON SURRENDER, ABANDONMENT, OR RECOVERY OF POSSESSION OF THE DWELLING UNIT DUE TO THE DEATH OF THE LAST REMAINING TENANT, AS PROVIDED BY CHAPTER 83, FLORIDA STATUTES, THE LANDLORD SHALL NOT BE LIABLE OR RESPONSIBLE FOR STORAGE OR DISPOSITION OF THE TENANT’S PERSONAL PROPERTY.
While this statute exempts the landlord from the notice requirements of Chapter 715, it does not clarify what a landlord may do with the tenant’s property. Since the property still belongs to the tenant, the landlord may not simply dispose of the property in any manner they see fit. However, if the above statement was included in the lease, and the landlord may avail themselves of the second general exception regardless of the value of the property.
The second general exception is found in Florida Statute §83.62, which permits the landlord to place the tenant’s personal property to the property line at any time after the sheriff has executed the writ of possession. While this seems like a simple solution, this is not a cost-free solution as the landlord may have to hire contractors to move the property. Additionally, moving personal belongings to the property line is easier said than done in multifamily housing, condominiums, zero lot line communities, or communities with restrictions against such disposal. For this reason, landlords should undertake reasonable efforts to communicate with the tenant, and potentially grant them supervised access to the premises to remove their belongings.
As you can see, legally disposing of abandoned property can be time consuming and costly. Where possible, landlords should reasonably work with a former tenant for return of the tenant’s personal property. If not possible, landlords should exercise due diligence to ensure they are disposing of the abandoned property as required by Florida law.