Personal Property Left Behind. Whose is it?

REALTOR® Outlook

By Kay Wilson-Bolton

January 15, 2008

With the number of foreclosures on the rise, so does the problem of dealing with personal property left behind when the former owners generally find smaller accommodations and can’t take the boat, the skis, the sound system or the dog and cat.

California law is very specific about how personal property left behind must be handled. Interestingly, these rules do not apply to manufactured homes, mobile homes, or commercial coaches.

When a tenant has vacated the premises after termination of the tenancy and property has been left behind, a landlord must give a written notice (Notice) to the tenant and any other person the landlord reasonably believes may own the property.

The Notice should contain the following items: a description of the property which is sufficiently clear to permit the owner of the property to identify it; the place where the property may be claimed; a statement to the owner that reasonable storage costs may be charged before the property is returned; the date before which the claim must be made. The date given cannot be less than 15 days from the date the Notice is personally delivered, or, if mailed, 18 days from the date the Notice is deposited in the mail.

In addition to the items listed above, the Notice should also contain a description of what will happen to the property if it is unclaimed. If the property is believed to be worth $300 or more, the Notice should include these points:

If the owner fails to reclaim the property, it will be sold at a public sale after a Notice of Sale has been given by publication;

The owner has the right to bid on the property at the sale. Once the property is sold, the costs of storage, advertising, and sale will be deducted from the sale price and any remaining money will be paid over to the county; and the original property owner may claim the money at any time within one year from the date the county receives the money.

If the property is believed to be worth less than $300, the Notice need only state this fact and that the property may be kept, sold, or destroyed without further warning to the owner if it is not claimed within the time period listed in the Notice.

Some say the measure can be the value of the goods if sold at a garage sale.

The landlord should mail the Notice, via first-class mail, postage prepaid, to the presumed property owner’s last known addresses and it would be wise to include the vacated premises, place of business, post office box, etc.

The landlord may release the property to a former tenant or to any other person the landlord reasonably believes to be the owner of the property as long as the tenant or other owner pays the reasonable storage fees and takes possession of the property prior to the date specified in the written Notice..

If the property owner claims the property by the date specified in the Notice or any time prior to the sale of the property, the landlord may charge all the reasonable costs of storage incurred which remain unpaid from the time of the termination of tenancy to the time the property is claimed

When the landlord stores the abandoned item on the rental premises, he/she may charge the party who claims the item the fair rental value of the space reasonably required to store the item for the term of the storage.

From the proceeds the landlord may deduct the expenses for storage, advertising, and sale. The balance, if not claimed by a former tenant or property owner, must be paid into the treasury of the county in which the sale took place not more than 30 days after the sale. The landlord should contact the county treasury department to determine how sale proceeds should be paid to the treasurer.

The property owner has one year from the date of sale in which to make a claim to the treasurer for the balance of the sale proceeds by making application to the county treasurer or other official designated by the county.

A residential landlord may not refuse to return items which a former tenant has left on the premises when the tenancy ends if the tenant requests the items under the following conditions:

The tenant makes a written demand which includes a description of the personal property and the tenant’s mailing address within 18 days of the end of the tenancy; the landlord or his/her agent has control or possession of the item at the time the request is received;

The tenant, in response to the landlord’s written request, pays the landlord’s reasonable storage and removal costs for the item prior to the landlord returning the item; and,

The tenant agrees to claim and remove the item at a reasonable time agreeable to the landlord but no later than 72 hours after the tenant pays the storage and removal fees.

It is best to hope that the owners retrieve their possessions, and it is easier to store them where you found them, rather than move them to another location. It is too easy for that diamond necklace, handed down from Grandma, to get lost!

Kay Wilson-Bolton is the owner of CENTURY 21 Buena Vista and CENTURY 21 Ability. She brings a regional perspective to local issues. She can be reached at 805.340.5025. Her web address is


About Kay Wilson-Boltonhttp://www.kaywilsonbolton.netWith a full-time career in real estate, I can add to your bank of knowledge, not only in real estate but in many areas of life that deal with people and relationships and choices. My real estate career has taught me many lessons about planning ahead and looking forward. I believe in helping along the way so that they can be the best they can be in any situation. I serve as a Fire Department Chaplain and Coordinator for the Many Meals Project which serves homeless and hungry families in my community. The event is far more than many meals. As a result of my work with the homeless population in my community, I received the Good Neighbor Award 2017 from the National Association of Realtors and named as a Champion of Homes in 2015 by the California Association of Realtors. I make pastoral visits to the inmates in the County Jail System and offer them what God says about "all things being new" and His remarkable plan for our lives. I have served my community as Mayor and in many volunteer capacities. I serve others by serving God first. My husband is involved in prison ministry and is a graphic artist. We live a simple life in Santa Paula with an office cat named Scout, three rescued poodles and a cat named Tony Diane at home.

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