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Tenant who moved on to a new life left a few things behind

September 24, 2006|H. May Spitz | Special to The Times

Question: I recently married and moved out of my apartment but forgot some items. When I got back from my honeymoon, I tried contacting the property manager, to no avail. Several wedding gifts are also missing. How can I get my stuff back? Can he just toss my things out?

Answer: You have two problems to solve. First, the missing gifts. Be sure you put in a forwarding order with the U.S. Postal Service. Forwarding requests can be made online at Click "change of address" and follow the guide. There is also a "redelivery service" link that may help you recover some of the wedding gifts.

As for forgetting items in the apartment, you're not alone, because renters leave belongings behind quite often. As a result, there are specific procedures in most states for handling the problem. Property may be considered abandoned by a tenant, depending on individual state law, which can be found online through either the Department of Consumer Affairs or attorney general's office in the state where the rental is located.

Can a landlord legally keep tenant possessions or throw them out after move-out? They certainly can't just toss your things into the trash bin on a whim. When personal property is left behind, the landlord has a set of rules to follow before disposing of the goods.

Most states impose a minimum waiting period, depending on the dollar limit of the goods.

In California, if the tenant has not responded to a Notice of Right to Reclaim Abandoned Property within 18 days, the landlord can simply discard abandoned property worth less than $300.

Goods valued over $300 in California require more complicated procedures before disposal. After proper notice is sent to the tenant, and if no response is received, the landlord must schedule a public auction for the goods and advertise it. Sale funds may then be applied to storage and associated costs, often leaving little for the tenant to reclaim.

What if more than one former tenant wants the same property returned? For example, two roommates both request the same bicycle. Who should be given the item? Usually, the first tenant to reclaim the item is the winner. The landlord is under no obligation to play sleuth and figure out who the true owner might be.

No matter what the situation, the landlord's written notice must be sent to the former tenant's last known address. A description of the property must be in sufficient detail for the owner to confirm ownership. Boxed possessions (such as wedding gifts) don't need to be opened by the landlord, simply referred to as "container goods." The notice must mention a deadline to retrieve the items and any storage charges or moving charges to be paid by the tenant before property is released. Finally, where and when to pick up the things must be explained.

How can you get your things back? Assuming the landlord didn't contact you or respond, sending the landlord or property manager written notice about your forgotten items is a must. If for some reason things cannot be removed in time or have been left behind, you have an obligation to let the landlord know the situation.

Write a dated letter, which should include your full name and new address. Also include the address of your former apartment. Explain briefly that you were unable to remove all your belongings before leaving the apartment, listing the specific items, line by line, that were left behind. Below the list, include the following: "Please be aware that I have not abandoned this property, and I intend to return for these things." Give a specific date when you plan to come back and retrieve the items and range of time, such as between 9 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. Include, "If you prefer a different date or time, please contact me."

Be sure to send the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested as proof of the mailing. Follow up with a phone call. Even if you don't get a response, keep your written promise and drop by to reclaim your items. If you can't get in, leave a note. If there's no response, and you held up your end of the bargain, you may want to contact an attorney for legal advice.

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