Return of personal property
I left some things in the apartment when I was evicted. How do I get them back?
California law governs what happens to tenants’ property when they move out but do not take all their belongings with them. The tenant must act quickly to get his/her property. If the tenant follows the steps, s/he should get all the property returned in good condition.
What must the tenant do?
- As soon as possible after moving out (not more than 10 days), contact the landlord personally or in writing. Ask the landlord to return your belongings to you. You should be able to describe the possession left behind –which is why it is a good idea to mail or deliver a letter. Give the landlord your current address where s/he can reach you. Date the letter, sign it, and make a copy for yourself.
- Deliver the letter in person and get a receipt, or mail it by regular and certified mail.
- The landlord can charge you reasonable storage costs for the time s/he has stored your things after you moved out or were locked out. The landlord CANNOT demand all the back rent you might have left owing.
- Talk to the landlord and get a date and time when you can pick up your things. If there are a lot of things to be moved, have people and boxes with you so that the belongings can be moved as quickly as possible. Usually you will only get one part of a day to move the things, so do not assume you can come back day after day to remove the items. Tip: really heavy-duty trash bags hold a lot of stuff and are easier to carry, less expensive, and easier to find than boxes.
- If you are unable to pick up the items yourself, give your friends or family permission in writing to take the items, and clear it with the landlord ahead of time.
How much can the landlord charge me for moving and storing my things? What steps does s/he have to take to charge me storage?
If the landlord expects to have the tenant pay storage costs, the landlord must write the tenant a letter within 5 days of receiving the tenant’s letter requesting his/her possessions.
- The landlord must tell the tenant what the costs will be. The landlord has to list all the charges and describe the purpose of each one.
- The costs can be those charges related to moving the tenant’s things from the house/apartment and storing them. The costs have to be reasonable. The costs can include expenses for removing tenant’s things from the dwelling to storage, or reasonable value of the work included in moving the items. The costs have to be reasonable so if the items are kept in the rental property, the landlord cannot charge what an expensive storage unit would cost.
What if the landlord refuses to return my things?
If you followed all the steps listed above, the landlord should return your property. If s/he doesn’t s/he can be liable to you for damages equal to the value of your possessions plus up to $250 as a penalty. If the landlord believes or can prove that the property you left is worth less than $350, the landlord does not have to follow these steps. S/he can give away the items. See Civil Code §1965