Dealing with abandoned personal property is a necessary chore for any landlord. New Jersey property law includes a statute stipulating how landlords must process any personal property left behind by the tenant, whether that tenant voluntarily abandoned the premises or was evicted from the premises. Specifically, the law allows the landlord, after giving proper notice to tenant, to dispose of any personal property left upon the premises. The landlord’s right to disposal is only valid if the landlord reasonably believes that the tenant has left the personal property with no intention of asserting a claim to the premises or the personal property, and the tenant has either been evicted or the tenant has given written notice that possession of the premises is being voluntarily relinquished by the tenant.
The required notice
There are some particulars about how the notice is sent to the tenant and what information is included in the notice. First, the landlord must send the required notice to the tenant at their last known address by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by receipted first class mail. The landlord must also send the notice to any alternate addresses for the tenant with “Please Forward” on the envelope. Essentially, a reasonable effort must be made to get the notice to the tenant. The specific information that should be included in the notice is as follows, and this is directly from the statute (N.J.S.A. 2A:18-72):
- The personal property is considered abandoned and must be removed from the premises or from the place of safekeeping (if landlord has stored the personal property) not less than 30 days after delivery of the notice or not less than 33 days after the date of mailing, whichever comes first.
- If the abandoned property is not removed, landlord may sell the personal property at a public or private sale or may destroy or otherwise dispose of the personal property if landlord reasonably determines that the value of the personal property is so low that the cost of storage and conducting a public sale would probably exceed the amount that would be realized from the sale, or landlord may sell items of value and destroy or otherwise dispose of the remaining personal property.
- If Tenant claims the personal property within the time provided in the notice, landlord must make the personal property available for removal by tenant without payment by tenant of any unpaid rent.
Storage of property
The landlord must store any personal property of Tenant in a place of safekeeping and use reasonable care when handling the property. The landlord is allowed to dispose of perishable food and allow an animal control agency or humane society to remove any abandoned pets. The landlord is entitled to reasonable storage charges and costs incidental to storage.
If the tenant fails to act
If the tenant sends a written response to landlord indicating that they will retrieve their property they have 15 days to actually do so. If the tenant responds in the appropriate time period but then fails to retrieve the property, the landlord can conclusively presume that the property has been abandoned. In addition, if no response is received from Tenant or within the time period provided, then the Tenant’s personal property shall be conclusively presumed to be abandoned.
Reimbursement for storage costs
The tenant is responsible for reimbursing the landlord for the reasonable cost of storage of their personal property, including the reasonable cost of removal of the personal property to a storage facility. The landlord is not responsible for any loss to tenant resulting from storage of personal property unless the loss was caused by Landlord’s deliberate or negligent act or omission.
Disposal of personal property and sale proceeds
The landlord has three options when it comes to disposing of the tenant’s personal property:
- Sell the personal property at a public or private sale.
- Destroy or otherwise dispose of the personal property, as long as the landlord can reasonably determine that the value of the personal property is so low that the cost of storing it and conducting a public sale would probably exceed the amount that would be realized from the sale.
- Sell certain items and destroy or otherwise dispose of the remaining personal property.
As far as what happens to any proceeds from a public sale of the tenant’s personal property, the landlord is allowed to deduct from the proceeds the reasonable costs of notice, storage and sale and any unpaid rent and charges not covered by a security deposit. Once these amounts are deducted the landlord must remit to tenant the remaining proceeds, if any, together with an itemized accounting. In the case where the tenant cannot be located, the remaining proceeds must be deposited into the Superior Court and, if not claimed within 10 years, will escheat to the State.