Abandoned Belongings: What To Do When Tenants Disappear

By Real Property Associates


Published March 25, 2021. Updated August 24, 2023. 

As you grow a real estate investment portfolio in Seattle, you'll encounter a wide variety of renter situations. Whether they're coming, going, or renewing a lease for another term, no two residents are the same. 

What happens when a renter moves out — but their stuff stays behind? It might seem strange to think of moving out of a home (or to a new home) and leaving any belongings behind. However, as a long-time Seattle property management company, we've seen this happen more often than investors might expect.

Before you call a local junk hauler to take their stuff away or try to sell anything on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace, make sure you know the rules. Here's what real estate investors need to think through when dealing with belongings left behind by former residents.

Pile of  laundry, abandoned belongings from a tenant concept.

Try To Reach the Renter

When a renter moves out, you collect a forwarding address to use when returning their security deposit — unless they don't get it back. You also have an email address and phone number from your records while they rented your property.

So, when you discover that a resident has moved out and left some things behind, the first step is to try and contact them.

It's possible they overlooked a stash of stuff behind a door or in a closet and would appreciate a call that you found the items. Contacting them and making efforts to reunite a former renter with their things is a thoughtful thing to do — especially when good renters move on to a new home. 

However, if it's a significant amount of stuff, or it's clear your Seattle residents bolted out of the property in a hurry and without letting you know, it's time to get some help. If you can't reach them and it's clear they didn't intend to take the stuff when they left, it's time for professionals to get involved.

Consult Your Lawyer

A lawyer can help you assess the situation and use a legal approach to dealing with items your renters didn't take when they moved out. Consulting your lawyer helps avoid a lawsuit if your renters claim you withheld their personal belongings against their wishes.

For example, after you tried to reach them with no success, they could return later (after you've disposed of the items) and claim you never let them know they left anything behind.

In many situations, investors can remove trash and debris without penalties or worry of a renter claiming they needed those items. In fact, it can be a good idea to go ahead and remove spoiled food from the refrigerator and trash in the home before the situation gets worse. Leaving it in the property can cause damage and invite pest activity into the home.

Residents won't be back for trash, and there's no reason to save it for them. 

If the situation involves difficult renters who left under questionable or unpleasant circumstances, it's helpful to involve a Seattle property management team, too. Experts like our Real Property Associates team can itemize the abandoned belongings in the rental property and work with your legal advisor to handle renters who left furniture, clothing, or other items in your property.

What does the lease say? 

A thorough lease agreement should include details about what happens to a renter's property if they leave it when they move out. If the lease outlines a timeframe for renters to leave the property and move belongings out, make sure there are also notes about what happens if a resident fails to remove all items by the deadline.

If a renter left without notice and stopped paying rent, property owners might have more options to recover lost income from the nonpayment of rent.

Let your lawyer guide you through your legal options to deal with items of value or anything that isn't trash, and hire a Seattle property management company to enforce the lease agreement and deal with abandoned property in your rental.

When Dangerous Items Are Left Behind

In most cases, renters probably won't leave behind any valuable or dangerous, but it could happen. If you discover anything like firearms, illegal substances, or even animals in the property after you're sure tenants are no longer living there, your first call should be to the police.

Never handle firearms, animals, or illegal substances a tenant leaves in your rental property. Work with law enforcement and your attorney to catalog the items, remove them from rental properties, and protect yourself and your property from being wrongly associated with that kind of activity.

A man moving boxes into a car, Seattle property management concept.

Look for a New Renter

Stuff that's left behind from a prior resident doesn't keep you from finding your next Seattle renter and launching a new tenancy agreement! Even if moving or storing the left-behind items is still in progress, investors can start the make-ready process and market the vacant rental with a property listing.

There's no need to deal with an extended vacancy when a renter bails on your property or leaves abandoned personal property in the rental. A property manager can help you deal with the former resident and their stuff while getting your property rental-ready for a new high-quality renter.

Choosing better-quality renters can help Seattle investors avoid situations where residents leave belongings behind after leaving the property. Quality renters understand the lease agreement and value your property (and their own stuff)! They are less likely to break a lease or leave things in your rental when it's time to move out at the end of a lease term. 

A thorough screening process helps investors enjoy better renters. Our Seattle property management team can review the history of potential renters and find out if they have a pattern of leaving stuff behind or breaking leases without notice.

Let a Seattle Property Management Company Handle What's Left Behind

Depending on the situation and the items left behind, real estate investors will benefit from expert help. You might be able to sell some abandoned personal items, but consult a lawyer and involve a professional Seattle property management company before taking action. 

Real Property Associates has the experience to handle any renter situation. We'll make sure abandoned items don't impact your income or the search for your next resident! Learn more about protecting your property with a free copy of our Guide to Protecting Your Investments!

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