• Sasha Struthers

How to Handle Tenant Abandonment and Their Personal Property- Residential & Commercial



When tenants move out, with or without notice, they often leave behind their belongings for the landlord to deal with. Landlords don't love this and it comes with strings attached- landlords must tell the tenant "hey come get your stuff." Below are the scenarios that arise and the steps landlords should take to mitigate liability when a tenant has disappeared and/or left their belongings.


For convenience, I have included 6 form notices that meet the statutory requirements discussed below.


Order of Operations


  • Belief of Abandonment

  • Landlord Written Notice of Belief of Abandonment

  • Landlord Written Notice of Right to Reclaim Personal Property

  • Landlord Disposal of Abandoned Property


Residential tenant is not paying rent and appears to have vacated the unit. Under CCP §1951.3, in this event the landlord must serve a Notice of Belief of Abandonment. The rules:


  • Rent must have been due and unpaid for 14 consecutive days.

  • Landlord reasonably believes the tenant has abandoned the property.

  • Landlord serves a statute compliant notice regarding belief of abandonment.

  • If notice to be served by mail, notice to be sent to last known address, likely the property at issue address, or if known, another address reasonably believed the tenant(s) will receive notice.

  • The lease then terminates 15 days after personal delivery of the notice to the tenant(s) or 18 days after mailed notice to the tenant(s), if the tenant does not provide written notice back of (a) claim to personal property and (b) address to be served by certified mail of unlawful detainer.


Commercial Tenant is not paying rent and appears to have vacated their unit. The same rules above apply to commercial tenancies, however the law was amended effective 1/1/2019 to provide a little more assistance to landlords in commercial leases. Under Assembly Bill 2847, which added CCP §1951.35, there are two differences: (1) the rent has to be due and unpaid for a minimum number of days required under the commercial lease to determine the tenant has defaulted and (2) the landlord only has to wait 15 days after service by one of the three allowed methods of service. The rules:


  • Rent must have been due and unpaid for the minimum number of days outlined in the commercial lease to determine the tenant has defaulted.

  • Landlord reasonably believes the tenant has abandoned the property.

  • Landlord serves a statute compliant notice regarding belief of abandonment.

  • If notice to be served by mail, notice to be sent to last known address, likely the property at issue address, or if known, another address reasonably believed the tenant(s) will receive notice.

  • The lease then terminates 15 days after notice is personally delivered, overnight mailed or regular mailed, and the tenant does not provide written notice back of (a) claim to personal property and (b) address to be served by certified mail of unlawful detainer.


The upside to these requirements, when done right and documented, the landlord does not need to file an unlawful detainer if the tenant does not respond back in writing. Possession of unit/ property is returned to the landlord to be leased again. However, it is is advised to serve concurrently a 3 Day Notice to Pay or Quit, if not already done so just in case the tenant does respond.


Disposing of abandoned residential personal property.


Property of the Tenant


Under CCP § 1983 when a residential tenant has moved out but left personal property it is advised to send a notice to the tenant allowing them a right to reclaim their property. Likely they don't want they abandoned, but you still need to give them an opportunity to get their stuff back. The rules:


  • Landlord serves a statute compliant notice regarding tenant right to reclaim left behind personal property.

  • If notice to be served by mail, notice to be sent to last known address, likely the property at issue address, or if known, another address reasonably believed the tenant(s) will receive notice.

  • Starting 2 days after date the unit is vacated the landlord may start applying a reasonable storage fee for the left behind property.

  • The tenant has 15 days after personal delivery of the notice to the tenant(s) or 18 days after mailed notice to the tenant(s), to reclaim the personal property.

  • If tenant does not contact landlord during this time requesting landlord to store, for a fee, the personal property the landlord may do one of two things: (1) sell it at public auction or (2) if worth less than $700, keep, sell or destroy the personal property.

Property of Believed Owner- Not the Tenant


In the event the property is abandoned and the landlord reasonably believes they know who the owner of the personal property is, the landlord should also send a notice to the believed owner. The same rules for tenant owned property apply here, though the notice has different language.


Disposing of abandoned commercial personal property.


Property of the Tenant


Under CCP § 1993.03 when a commercial tenant has moved out but left personal property it is again advised to send a notice to the tenant allowing them a right to reclaim their property. The difference here, the value of the property is now higher- $2,500 or the amount of one month's rent, which ever is greater, thanks to Assembly Bill 2173. This is a major relief, as often times tenants disappear and leave perceived valuable property that is a headache to go to public auction with. Any public auction is a headache to be honest. Also, the landlord does not have to wait the 2 days before a storage fee applies. The rules:


  • Landlord serves a statute compliant notice regarding tenant right to reclaim left behind personal property.

  • If notice to be served by mail, notice to be sent to last known address, likely the property at issue address, or if known, another address reasonably believed the tenant(s) will receive notice.

  • The tenant has 15 days after personal delivery of the notice to the tenant(s) or 18 days after mailed notice to the tenant(s), to reclaim the personal property.

  • If tenant does not contact landlord during this time requesting landlord to store, for a fee, the personal property the landlord may do one of two things: (1) sell it at public auction or (2) if worth less than $2,500 or the value of one (1) month's rent, which ever is greater, keep, sell or destroy the personal property.


Property of Believed Owner- Not the Tenant


Same with residential, if the property is abandoned and the landlord reasonably believes they know who the owner of the personal property is, the landlord should also send a notice to the believed owner. I find many times that people will actually reach out to the owner claiming their property is held inside a commercial unit. Usually in that case I have them send photos and documents proving whatever is held in the unit actually belongs to them.


Like all things, it is best to have a written account. Mostly tenants disappear and leave their life behind in their units. But there is always that off chance a tenant comes back to haunt you over what is most likely junk. Its a pain to deal with but the forms provided here will help you address the problem correctly.


The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this post should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram

314 W. 58th Street, Unit 200

Los Angeles, Ca 90037

Tel: 818.306.0686

Disclaimer- The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. I invite you to contact me and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting me does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to me until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established. 

© 2021 by Sasha Struthers.