How to Remove and Store Your Evicted Tenant's Belongings
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Good Preparation is the Key to an Orderly Legal Move-Out
You have won your case in court and have the eviction notice in your hand. Finally, you think, you have finished spending time, money, and emotions on the eviction process. At this point, you probably don't care what happens to the tenant's belongings. You just want it out of your place. Unfortunately, this is the beginning of the next phase of your eviction - removing and disposing of the tenant's belongings from your property.
Before you start the eviction process, you should research and plan the process from the beginning to the end. Each phase of a residential eviction carries with it an action, a time period, obligations of law, and money. If you have won your case, the court will mail the eviction of judgment to you. By that time, you should already know the laws in your state regarding the removal and storage of an evicted tenant's belongings. This is your responsibility and obligation as the property owner.
This article contains some guidelines and actions a property owner with tenants should take as due diligence for his property. These guidelines should not overrule required legal action in your state regarding the removal of tenant belongings. Most states, such as Massachusetts, do not allow you to rent a U-Haul truck and remove your tenant's belongings on your own. This is the job of the constable or sheriff you must hire and pay to do the moving of furniture. Do not even change the locks to the apartment, until the constable has completed the eviction, and posted the legal notice on the apartment door.
There are states that require you to remove as well as store your tenant's belongings at the property owner's expense. Each state dictates how long the homeowner must pay for warehousing. The rate for storage of an evicted tenant's belongings should not be more than what that warehouse normally charges.
The tenant is usually notified in advance by the constable of the date and time the physical eviction will take place. Coordinate this information between you and the constable, so that the constable is given the keys to the unit for that day and time. Do not be in a hurry to 'convince' the tenant to leave on his or her own, by cutting off the utilities. This is illegal almost everywhere. Take the time to do it right the first time.
If you have reason to believe the tenant has moved out permanently on his or her own, you need to write a letter to that effect to the tenant's last known address, with a copy under their unit door. Give 48 hours notice for them to let you know whether or not they are still in the apartment, or you will enter and reclaim the unit by changing the locks. Be reasonable - if it appears that some items have been left for a last pickup (bed, cabinets, etc.), give it another day. It's cheaper than fighting about the value of what you threw out in small claims court. Take pictures before you throw items away, preferably before you bag it up.
The following suggestions just make good business practice. All it takes is one calamity with a tenant, and your eviction no longer has an ending; it will have a new legal beginning. Here are some reasonable guidelines for you and your constable:
1. Make sure your constable or sheriff is fully bonded and insured. Get it in writing.
If something bad happens to the tenant's belongings during the move-out or after warehoused, you want the constable's insurance company to be sued, not your home owners insurance.
2. Have a written contract with your constable that absolves you from liability once the constable or sheriff enters your house. The physical eviction move-out is the constable's responsibility. Give him the key to the building and apartment, or let him into the unit yourself, and let him do his job.
3. Have a plan for what will be done with items the constable will not take, such as food, plants, pets, illegal drugs, etc. Review your Emergency Contact Information Form for the name, address and telephone number of the tenant's next of kin if the totally unforeseen occurs, such as a child under the age of 18 years is left in the apartment on the day of the eviction.
4. The tenant should be informed in writing where their belongings have been taken and stored. A copy of the eviction notice should be attached to the apartment door for the tenant to know why the locks have been changed, The business name, address, and business telephone of the constable or sheriff should be provided.
5. All the property is to be removed at the same time, on the same day.
6. The tenant has the right to be able to get to where their belongings are stored. The constable should be instructed to store the tenant's belongings within a reasonable distance of their former housing.
7. The warehouse must be public, fully bonded, licensed, and insured.
8. The tenant should be given the business name, address, and telephone number of the warehouse where their belongings have been stored.
9. The tenant should be informed in writing how long their belongings will be stored at the warehouse, and can be sold at auction after that date. The warehouse may keep any proceeds of the auction to cover any unpaid storage fees.
10. The tenant notice should include information that it is his or her obligation to tell the warehouse of their new address.
11. In most states that require warehousing, the constable must file a list of what was removed from the apartment to the housing court after the eviction. You and the tenant should also get a copy.
You may think all of this is unnecessary. And, you could pay for non-compliance in your state with a triple damage lawsuit. Again, it is your responsibility as the property owner to know the state laws regarding the proper way to remove, store, and/or dispose of your evicted tenant's belongings. This information is available through your attorney. It can also be found at your local library, state house bookstore, online under a search such as "[name of your state] eviction storage laws", at a legal web site, or a landlord information web site.
This is an exerpt from the author's book, "Secret's to a Successful Eviction for Landlord's and Rental Property Managers."
New Note: The bed bug epidemic has added another aspect to the removal of an evicted tenant's belongings. If your constable finds evidence of a bed bug infestation during the eviction, he may refuse to do your eviction for fear of infecting his warehouse. You may be required to pay to remove all bed bugs from the apartment before the eviction.
There will be tenants who are not aware they have bed bugs. You will have to treat your building regardless, as the owner. This is a very costly service. You need to consult with your attorney concerning your financial liabilities regarding bed bug infestation and removal of an evicted tenant. For future reference, you may want to have your attorney include a bed bug infestation clause in your lease.
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