As property managers, we get asked this question a lot in our jobs – your tenant moves out of the property and yet leads you a pile of junk that they expect that you will just take care of for them, right? Absolutely not!

Let’s be honest, when a tenant moves out, regardless of the reason, turnover is always a whole lot of work. Every property owner wants this transition to be seamless, but the reality is that it can be a time-consuming, and even expensive hassle.

Before you do anything, it’s important you inspect the unit to get an idea of the condition of your property and create a plan to get the rental ready for an incoming tenant. Upon inspection, you might see how much cleaning is needed, if you need to make any repairs/maintenance, or if there’s damage. However, you might even find the previous tenant left a significant amount of their belongings—not cool.

Your lease agreement should be very clear. The tenant is required to restore the property back to its original condition at the conclusion of the lease—that means moving out their personal property.

That’s why it’s important you complete a walk through every time the lease turns over—you don’t want to end up with years of past tenant furniture left behind that you didn’t know was there! As the property owner, you have the duty to securely store a tenant’s possessions for a reasonable amount of time without damaging them, and allow the tenant to reclaim their belongings within that time frame. You become liable for the property and you want to be sure to follow protocol so you don’t put yourself at risk for a damages claim. Just because you might think it’s junk, doesn’t mean you can treat it that way.

The Residential Tenancies Act contains a number of rules about how to deal with a tenant’s property that is left behind when the tenant moves out of a rental unit. Which rules apply in a situation will depend on how and why the tenant left the rental unit.

A landlord who follows these rules and who takes reasonable care to keep the tenant’s property safe while storing it, will not be liable if they sell, keep, or ‘dispose of’ (give away or throw away) the property that the tenant has left in the unit. This means that if the landlord follows the rules when dealing with property that a tenant has left in a rental unit, they can’t be:

• fined,

• made to pay the tenant money for the tenant’s property, or

• made to give back the tenant’s property that the tenant left behind.

However, if the landlord does not follow the rules before they sell, keep or dispose of a tenant’s property, the tenant may take action against the landlord and the landlord may be held liable. If you are a landlord or a tenant and you are unsure which set of rules applies to your situation, you should get legal advice

  1. A Tenant Moves out to a Notice, an Agreement to Terminate or a Board Order

• a notice of termination that the landlord gave the tenant, or • a notice of termination that the tenant gave the landlord, or
• an agreement to end the tenancy that the tenant and landlord made, or
• an order that terminated the tenancy or evicted the tenant that the landlord received because they made an application to the Board.

If a tenant leaves property behind after moving out for one of these reasons then, in most cases, the landlord may immediately sell, keep or dispose of any property the tenant has left behind. This applies if the tenant moved out according to:

However, regardless of which of these reasons caused the tenant to move out, the landlord and the tenant can agree to other terms about what is to be done with the property that the tenant left behind. For example, a landlord and a tenant may agree that the tenant can store their sofa in the basement for two weeks after the tenant leaves the unit

2. The Sherriff Evicts the Tenant

If a tenant leaves property behind after the Sheriff has enforced the Board’s order and evicted them, the landlord must give the tenant 72 hours to get their property from the rental unit or some storage area that is safe and close to the rental unit, before selling, keeping or disposing of the tenant’s property.

What can be done with the tenant’s property during the 72 hours?

During the 72 hours after the Sheriff has evicted the tenant, the landlord may leave the property in the rental unit, or they can move it to a safe location that is close to the unit. The tenant can get their property back during this 72-hour period. The landlord must make the tenant’s property available to the tenant between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. during the 72-hour period. However, the landlord and the tenant can agree to other terms about what is to be done with the property that the tenant leaves behind.

What happens if the tenant doesn’t come to get their property?

Unless the landlord and tenant agree to other terms, if the tenant doesn’t come to get their property during the 72-hour period, they no longer have any claim to it and they lose all rights to it. Once the 72 hours has passed, the landlord can sell, keep or dispose of the tenant’s property. A landlord who follows these rules and who takes reasonable care to keep the tenant’s property safe while storing it, will not be liable for selling, retaining or disposing of the tenant’s property.

What happens if the landlord doesn’t follow these rules?

If the landlord does not let the tenant get their property back during the 72-hour period, or if the landlord sells, keeps or disposes of the property before the 72 hours has passed, the tenant can do one or both of the following things

3. Tenant Abandons the Rental Unit

A tenant has abandoned the rental unit if the tenant owes rent and moves out without:

• making an agreement with the landlord to end the tenancy, or

• giving a notice to end the tenancy to the landlord, or

• getting a notice to end the tenancy from the landlord, or

• getting a Board order evicting them.

Note: A rental unit is not considered to be abandoned if the tenant’s rent has been paid and their rent it is up-to-date.

What rules apply in this situation?

 If a tenant leaves property behind after they have abandoned the rental unit, and the landlord wants to sell, keep or dispose of the property, the landlord must do one of the following things:

• apply to the Board on an L2 application for an order that states that the rental unit was abandoned and the tenancy is ended; or

• serve a notice on the tenant, with a copy to the Board, stating that they intend to sell, keep or dispose of the tenant’s property. (There is no Board form to use in this situation.)

Note: If the landlord doesn’t know the tenant’s new address, the notice can be sent to the tenant’s last known address or to the tenant’s business address (if the landlord knows it).

Note: If there is no property left in the rental unit, and the landlord is sure that the tenant has abandoned the unit, they do not have to apply to the Board for an order ending the tenancy.

However, the landlord can still apply if they want to get a Board order that clearly states that the tenant has abandoned the unit and the landlord now has the right to rent it to someone else.

What can be done with the tenant’s property?

The landlord must wait 30 days after they gave the notice to the tenant or received the order from the Board stating that the unit was abandoned, before they can sell, keep or dispose of the tenant’s property.

The landlord can leave the tenant’s property in the rental unit, or move it and store it in a safe location close to the unit.

Note: The landlord can dispose of any unsafe or unhygienic items (for example, rotting food) in the unit right away

4. The Tenant Dies

If a tenant dies, and there are no other tenants occupying the rental unit, the Act states that the tenancy agreement ends 30 days after the tenant dies. However, the Act allows the landlord and either an executor or administrator of the estate (or a family member – if there is no executor or administrator) to come to any other agreement about ending the tenancy and about selling, keeping or disposing of the deceased tenant’s property.

What can be done with the deceased tenant’s property?

Because the tenancy agreement is still in effect for 30 days following the tenant’s death, the landlord must leave the deceased tenant’s property in the unit for this 30-day period.

What if the estate’s representative wants to get the property during the 30-day period?

The landlord must allow the estate’s representative reasonable access to the unit and the residential complex during the 30 days following the tenant’s death to remove the deceased tenant’s property.

What happens if the estate’s representative doesn’t get the property during the 30-day period? After the 30 days have passed, the landlord can sell, keep or dispose of the deceased tenant’s property. But, the estate’s representative may still claim the deceased tenant’s property or the money the landlord received for it, for up to 6 months after the date that the tenant died.

PROACTIVE MEASURES TO HELP YOU AS A LANDLORD

As you can see, the rules are not as cut and dry as you likely thought, so it’s important that you follow and understand these rules to ensure you are following property procedures. However, there are a number of proactive measures that can help you as a landlord navigate these choppy waters:

Send a Move-Out Checklist to Tenants

When a lease is about to expire, a good practice for landlords is to send a move-out checklist to tenants. This reiterates the expectation set in the lease for tenants to restore the property to its original condition. You can customize yours to your property, or you can use a sample list.

Consider including tasks in your move-out checklist:

  • Cleaning requirements
  • Repainting walls to the same color as they were upon move-in
  • Removal of all personal possessions
  • Disposal of all trash
  • Leaving behind appliances and other pieces that are fixtures of the property
  • Removing self-installed fixtures
  • Notifying the landlord of any damage or issues in the unit

Many property managers use a resident site, which makes it easy, quick, and convenient to communicate with renters regarding move-out policies and other common requests, such as rent payment, maintenance issues, and documentation.

Hire a Property Manager

Property managers are skilled when it comes to tenant turnover. They assume the responsibility of all the work involved with move-outs. So, if a move-out is particularly messy, either because of an eviction or an excessive amount of possessions/trash left behind, they handle all of it. Dealing with abandoned tenant property is definitely complex procedure between understanding state laws and best practices, so it’s good to have an expert on your side.

Property managers also can also screen potential tenants and write leases. You can trust everything will be all set and just enjoy the passive income of owning property without any of the time- and energy-consuming management. If you’re ready to start looking for property managers in your area, we’re here to help.

Follow the Process

No property owner wants to deal with abandoned property when a tenant moves out. However, when you enter a vacated rental and find a mess, following these steps is unavoidable. Though this process might seem long and aggravating, you’ll dodge legal disputes, your former tenant will (hopefully) appreciate it, and you might make an extra buck. And if you can, take preventative action to ensure this kind of situation doesn’t happen to you.

To our Mutual Success,

Jay Shaw