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WHAT TO DO: PERSONAL PROPERTY LEFT BY A TENANT

Many residential landlords do not realize that Florida law sets forth a process for disposing of personal property after the tenant has been evicted, or abandons or surrenders the property back to the landlord. The method by which the tenant leaves the property is crucial in determining what you can or cannot do.

After eviction, the easiest and preferred way to dispose of property left by the tenant is to remove it from the residence and put it at property line. Florida Statutes, Section 83.62 (2) states in part:

(2) At the time the sheriff executes the writ of possession or at any time thereafter, the landlord or the landlord’s agent may remove any personal property found on the premises to or near the property line. …..Neither the sheriff nor the landlord or the landlord’s agent shall be liable to the tenant or any other party for the loss, destruction, or damage to the property after it has been removed. (emphasis added)

The last sentence is the most important. It relieves you, the property owner, of liability for disposing of the personal property if you dispose of it in the manner stated above. It is important to note that this is specifically when it comes to evictions and after the Writ of Possession is served.

If the tenant has left the property without eviction or order of the court, abandoned it, or turned it back over to the landlord and leaves personal property, disposing of it is handled differently from evictions. Florida Statutes, Section 715.04 requires you to notify the tenant and anyone else believed to be the owner of the personal property. The notice should describe the personal property in detail and include the address where the property is being stored along with any costs incurred for storing the items. Further, it must state where the property can be claimed and by what date. Ten days is required if you deliver the notice in person or 15 days after it is mailed. In storing the property, you are required to exercise reasonable care. You can be liable for loss of the personal property if your actions are deliberate or negligent. If the property is not claimed after proper notice and its value is in excess of $500.00, Florida Statutes, Section 715.109 permits you to sell the personal property at a public sale after publication of a notice for sale in a newspaper once a week for two consecutive weeks. After the sale, you are authorized to deduct the costs of storage, advertising and the sale. If proceeds remain, you are required to pay them into the treasury of the county in which the sale took place. The tenant or the owner of the property can claim those proceeds within one year. If the property’s resale value is less than $500.00, you can dispose of the property in any manner you choose, as long as you have given proper notice.

Surprisingly, many landlords are not aware of this process. It can be costly and time consuming. The good news is you can avoid having to take the foregoing steps when the tenant abandons or surrenders the property by making the specific disclosure set forth in Florida Statute, Section 83.67(5). This disclosure can be inserted in your written lease agreement or done by a separate writing signed by both parties. It is important to consult an attorney to ensure your lease agreement protects you. Routinely, we see lease agreements that lack important protections such as this disclosure.

This Article is expressly not to be taken as legal advice. The reader is cautioned to call an attorney of the reader’s choice before taking any action to dispose of a tenant’s personal property, with or without an eviction.

About the author: Lisa A. Troell is an attorney practicing in the areas of real estate including landlord/tenant and property management with the law firm of Chesser & Barr, PA in Okaloosa County, FL. .