My Previous Tenant Left His Personal Property Behind…What Do I Do?

Jack has been a long time tenant of residential property owned by Jill.  Over the years Jack has accumulated a lot of personal property and could be considered by some to be a rat pack.  Unfortunately Jack loses his job and can no longer afford the rent.  Unable to pay the rent, Jill is forced to file a lawsuit to evict Jack from the premises.  After Jack moves out Jill goes to the property to change the locks and re-take possession.  To her surprise, Jack did not remove all of his possession from the property. With new tenants expected to rent the property in a few weeks, what does Jill do with Jack’s possessions?

Jill needs to refer to the Nebraska Disposition of Personal Property Landlord & Tenant Act.  (See Neb. Rev. Stat. §69-2301- 69-2314).  The first thing Jill needs to do is inventory the property in a manner reasonably adequate to permit Jack to identify it.  She may then either leave Jack’s personal property at the rental home or store the property. Jill must then send notice to Jack to reclaim his property.  The notice must include:

a.       A description of the property left behind

b.      Advise Jack that reasonable costs of storage may be charged before the property is returned;

c.       The location where the property may be claimed;

d.      The date on or before which the property must be claimed; and

e.      A paragraph in either one of the following manners:

1.       “If you fail to reclaim the property, it will be sold at a public sale after notice of the sale has been given by publication.  You have a right to bid on the property at this sale.  After the property is sold and the costs of storage, advertising, and sale are deducted, the remaining money will be turned over to the State Treasurer pursuant to the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act.  You may claim the remaining money from the office of the State Treasurer as provided in such Act”; or

2.       “Because this property is believed to be worth less than two thousand dollars, it may be kept, sold, or destroyed without further notice if you fail to reclaim it within the time frame indicated in this notice.”

Neb. Rev. Stat. §69-2305 provides a template for writing said notice.

The date specified in the notice shall be a date not less than seven days after the notice is personally delivered or, if mailed, not less than fourteen days after the notice is deposited in the mail.  If the notice is mailed, it must be delivered to an address where Jack may reasonably be expected to receive the notice or his last known address.

Jack may reclaim his property, but will have to pay for any reasonable storage fees, if any, before his possessions can be handed over.  If the property is not reclaimed prior to final date on the notice, and the personal property is worth more than $2,000, then Jill must sell said property by public auction.  The time and place of the public sale must be advertised in a newspaper once a week for two consecutive weeks.  The auction shall take place no sooner than 10 days after the first publication and the last publication shall be no less than 5 days before the sale is to take place.  The publication notice must identify Jack as the owner of the property and identify the goods to be sold.  If the property is sold, the costs of storage, advertising, and sale are deducted and the remaining money will be turned over to the State Treasurer pursuant to the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act.  Jack can then claim the remaining money from the State Treasurer’s office.

When the property left behind is worth less than $2,000, Jill may either keep, sell or dispose the property without any further notice to Jack.

If Jill does not follow the procedures of this Act, and disposes, sells or keeps Jack’s property, she could be liable to Jack in a civil action for actual damages not to exceed the value of Jack’s personal property, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.  An award for attorney’s fees and court costs may well exceed the value of the items wrongfully retained or thrown away.   

So if you have a tenant that has left his personal property behind, be aware of the landlord’s legal requirements.  Please contact the Omaha Bar Association Legal Referral Service if you have questions or need legal advise pertaining to the Nebraska Disposition of Personal Property Landlord & Tenant Act or other Landlord/Tenant issues.