Nobles Law Firm

The tenants have left, so what about their stuff?

abandoned cart signA question I get quite a bit from landlords is whether they can dispose of a tenant’s property after an eviction.

The answer on that is a bit murky. Everything looks clear enough under Arkansas Code Annotated §18-16-108 provides that any property left in a dwelling after a lease has been terminated is considered abandoned and the landlord may dispose of it as he or she sees fit. That law also states that the property has a lien against in favor of the lessor for the payment of all sums agreed to be paid by the lessee.

So, let’s break down that jargon a bit.

First of all, the law clearly states that Arkansas law allows a landlord to pretty well do what he or she wants with abandoned property. Dump it on the curb. Throw it in a landfill. Sell it. The choice is yours.
However, I always advise my clients to take a different approach – store that abandoned property for 30 days and give the former a tenant the chance to come get it. A landlord could even make some money off of that abandoned property. Take it to a storage facility and tell the tenant to come get it within 30 days.

If the tenant doesn’t come get the property, then the landlord can direct the storage facility to sell the unclaimed property and then send the proceeds to the landlord after the storage fee is deducted.

A landlord runs a lot of risks if he or she just disposes of property. What if, for example, the tenant had some furniture that was rented and the rental company wants it back? What if there was a family heirloom in that abandoned property and the tenant was out of town around the time of the eviction?

In both of those cases, the landlord might have some explaining to do, but the landlord that exercises caution can show that he or she made an attempt to put the tenant on notice so they could reclaim their property. That kind of attention to detail will help a lot in case something goes wrong and a tenant, rental company or anyone else with an interest in the abandoned property starts howling about a lawsuit.

And, let’s talk a little bit about the part of the aforementioned law that allows a landlord to place a lien on property for payment of past due rent. A tenant that really wants his or her property back is free to take it out of storage upon payment of past due rent. A landlord who throws abandoned property away doesn’t have that kind of leverage.

See, the law seems pretty straightforward, but there are some very good reasons for storing abandoned property for awhile instead of simply disposing of it.

This column was authored by Ethan C. Nobles and originally appeared in the Sept. 22, 2015, edition of the Daily Record in Little Rock.

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