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If you’re a landlord or property manager, chances are pretty good that, sooner or later, you’ll need to evict someone. It’s an unfortunate turn of events for everyone involved. You lose rent until the proceedings are concluded, and the tenant leaves their residence, likely leaving them in a difficult situation. However, we’re not here to judge the case or the factors that led to it, and all evictions are stressful and with unique circumstances. We’re here to help you deal with the reality of the situation.
When an individual is evicted, if they don’t have somewhere lined up to store their stuff, they’ll need to make a difficult decision about what to keep and bring with them and what to leave behind. The stuff left behind is a challenge, not just for the evicted tenant but for you, too. You can’t rent the property again until it’s cleared, but that stuff isn’t yours. Some of that property may even be protected by the law. What can you do with it?
The truth is a little complicated, but we’ll try to help you through it.
It’s important to note that we’re just a junk removal company. We’re not lawyers, and we’re not legal counsel. If you’re concerned about the legality of the situation, talk to an attorney for individualized advice on your specific situation. We can only help you so much, but laws can change, and there’s no guarantee our post will be accurate for your circumstances. If we’re wrong on any of these points and you have authoritative sources for a correction, feel free to let us know! We don’t want to mislead anyone if we can help it.
Let’s get started!
Follow Legal Processes
We’re just going to touch lightly on this part, partly because it’s complicated and partly because we aren’t legal experts.
One key to handling deserted property is making sure it’s been abandoned. If you’re evicting a tenant, make sure you’re evicting them according to the laws of the City of Chicago. Chicago has specific ordinances governing the timeline and recourse you have when a tenant abandons a property or ceases paying rent. This PDF has a summary.
One tricky part is the timeline. Is it considered abandoned if your tenant isn’t actively occupying the property? Maybe not; if they’re still paying rent, you can’t do anything to their stuff, even if they haven’t been by the property in weeks. Step one is to ensure you’re not violating any state or local laws regarding evictions; otherwise, you’ll open yourself up to all manner of legal trouble.
Critically, you may need to make sure you notify the former tenant that they have left the property behind. This step may be relevant for any property left in an out-of-the-way location (like an attic or basement/crawlspace) that you or your tenant may have overlooked, even if the property is prominent, like if they left all their furniture behind, you still need to provide notice.
Check Your Lease
As a property owner, your first recourse is generally your lease. The terms you have set in your lease are the terms that govern what you can do with abandoned property. If you’ve picked a lease from the internet and used it without reading it, it’s probably a good idea to revisit that lease agreement. You should always be familiar with the contracts you’re signing, even if you’re the party with the majority of the power in the situation.
Often, a lease will set forth some expectation of reasonable contact to get junk removed from a property after eviction within a given timeframe. After that time is up, you’re usually free to dispose of it all as you wish. Ensure your lease doesn’t set forth any exceptional terms you need to follow.
While the city has a specific timeline for handling abandoned property, leases often have an even broader timeline. The City of Chicago (as discussed below) requires you to give seven days to recover the abandoned property. Many leases default to 30 days. Make sure you know the timeline of your lease agreement and stick to it.
Know the City Ordinance
The city of Chicago has an extensive and comprehensive set of ordinance rules called the RLTO, otherwise known as the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. You can find links to the full text and summary version here on the City of Chicago’s official website.
The relevant section for our discussion today is section 5-12-130.
Specifically, we’re looking at section 5-12-130 (f):
“(f) Disposition of Abandoned Property. If the tenant abandons the dwelling unit as described in subsection (e) hereof, or fails to remove his personal property from the premises after termination of a rental agreement, the landlord shall leave the property in the dwelling unit or remove and store all abandoned property from the dwelling unit and may dispose of the property after seven days. Notwithstanding the foregoing, if the landlord reasonably believes such abandoned property to be valueless or of such little value that the cost of storage would exceed the amount that would be realized from sale, or if such property is subject to spoilage, the landlord may immediately dispose of such property.”
In other words:
- You must store the tenant’s abandoned property for a minimum of seven days and allow them to retrieve it.
- You don’t have to store trash or garbage, like food wrappers, burned-out light bulbs, broken dishes, or what have you.
- You don’t have to store something that would spoil, like food.
So, if you’ve followed all of the legal proceedings to evict a tenant and have lawfully evicted them, you have to give them seven days to recover their property. After that point, it comes down to your timeline and relationship with the tenant.
Storage does not mean that you have to leave it in place. You can bring it with you and keep it in your garage, or rent a storage locker and keep it there. However, you do need to provide reasonable access if the tenant wants to recover it. You can’t “store” it in your own home and then not let the tenant into your home until the time is up.
Additionally, you can charge for storage, but you should remember that the chances of recovering those added costs are minimal when you’re already seeking back rent. You can pass those costs to the tenant, but if they’re already not paying you, it’s just one more number that doesn’t matter.
We recognize that in most cases if you’ve reached the point of eviction, you’re probably not on good terms with the tenant. If you note any particularly valuable or essential items in the stuff left behind, you might consider hanging on to them in case the tenant can recover those items later. After all, sometimes you’re forced to evict someone for non-payment of rent due to circumstances outside their control, and you still have a potentially good relationship with them. Who knows, maybe by building goodwill, you can bring them back as a renter when their situation has improved.
It’s always a good idea to show your tenants some compassion and be as accommodating as possible without it creating a hardship for you.
Can You Sell Abandoned Property?
Perhaps the most common consideration with abandoned property is whether or not you can sell it.
The answer here is yes, with certain exceptions.
- You can sell property like furniture, electronics, and other household items. It goes towards paying off back rent and paying off any bills for hiring a cleaning service, a junk removal service like ours, or making repairs to the property. The city may even encourage this since you can apply the property’s value to the bill your evicted tenant owes you.
- You aren’t required to sell the items for fair market value, auction them, or invest a significant amount of time in selling them. Once the timeline has run its course, you’re free to do what you want with the items, whether tossing them on Craigslist, selling bulk lots online, donating to a charity or just scrapping it all. We recommend using our service to haul away these old items, for reasons we’ll get to in a bit.
- The primary exception, by the way, is something like a car. Since a car’s ownership is determined by the title, not by the property’s physical location, you can’t sell a vehicle left abandoned on your property. You will likely need to report it to the police, who will have it towed and impounded for recovery through its specific process.
You may also want to check things like furniture and appliances to make sure they aren’t rented from somewhere. While it’s not your responsibility to return them, you may not be allowed to sell them since they aren’t your or your tenant’s property. At least rented items are typically fairly obvious with particular markings or security stickers attached to them, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Can You Keep Abandoned Property?
Another question you might have is whether or not you can keep some of the property left behind. Maybe the evicted tenant had a lovely couch, and your couch at home is getting worn down; can you keep their couch?
While it may seem rude, there are no laws against it. Once the property has been abandoned, and the tenant has not recovered it and made no attempt to make arrangements with you to recover it later, nothing is stopping you from keeping it. Ensure you’ve followed all the laws relevant to the eviction and property recovery process because it looks like theft otherwise.
Honestly, though, it’s rare enough that this will happen that you’re more likely to want their stuff hauled away. There’s no reason to pick over it all, especially when you need it removed to move on and put your rental property back on the market.
How to Get Rid of Abandoned Junk
If your tenant is being evicted and they’ve left stuff behind, and you don’t think the stuff they left behind has much value to you and isn’t worth the time it takes to sell, you’ll want to get rid of it, most likely.
This step is where we come in. At Junk Relief, we’re a fast, efficient, affordable junk removal service. Whether you need to remove a few pieces of furniture or an entire hoard, we’re ready, able, and willing to handle it for you.
We’re willing to say we’re one of the best ways in Chicago to handle the abandoned property. Why? When we haul away junk, we decide where it can go. We make sure as much of it as possible is either returned to the community or recycled. Anything that’s recoverable, like furniture, working appliances, and lightly-used items, can be donated or sold back into the community. Often, these items are donated to local charities like Goodwill and Salvation Army.
Anything that isn’t easily salvageable may still be recyclable. If it is, our partners at Lakeshore Recycling do everything they can to recycle it. Some are brought back to the community as building materials, while other junk is recycled in more traditional ways. After this process is complete, only the bare minimum is forwarded as trash to its appropriate end.
You can read more about how our junk recycling process works on this page.
So, if your tenant has been lawfully evicted and you’ve been left with a property full of abandoned junk, why not give us a call? All you need to do is talk to us about how much stuff you need to be hauled away and what kind of stuff it is, and we’ll give you an estimate immediately. We do our best to be transparent while also being fast and reliable. There will be no hidden fees and no surprises.
Contact us today if you have abandoned junk that needs removing. We’ll have it gone in no time, and you can get down to repairing, cleaning, and re-renting your property, so it’s not left languishing and costing you money.