Abandoned Property: Landlord Beware

ellenlinley Business Law, Landlord Tenant

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Whether you are a seasoned landlord with valuable management skills or a first-time landlord, the issue of eviction or abandonment could be an issue you have to face. The issue of abandoned property appears in two contexts. On one hand, a landlord could face the issue when the tenant has abandoned the property altogether by leaving for an indefinite period of time without giving notice. On the other, a landlord could face the issue when the lease has expired or been terminated yet the tenant fails to take all of his or her possessions with him. What are your rights and responsibilities as a landlord in each situation?

In the first situation, a landlord is dealing with an abandoned dwelling upon which the tenant probably owes rent. The landlord needs to think about whether or not the property is actually abandoned as defined by Florida law. Florida Statute § 83.59(3)(c) states that a tenant has abandoned the dwelling when he or she is absent from the property for a period of time equal to one-half the time for periodic rental payment, as long as the rent is not current and the tenant has not notified the landlord of his or her absence in writing. For example, in Shorter Home Solutions, LLC v. Tyrance Kingdom, the Broward County court held that statutory abandonment of the property was apparent because the tenant, Tyrance Kingdom, had abandoned the dwelling when he left the premises without paying his monthly rent, without advising the landlord of his absence, and without returning to the premises until after the 15th day of the month. The landlord, Shorter Home Solutions, was entitled to remove the tenant’s personal property from the premises and was awarded a judgment of the balance on the rent and the reasonable cost of attorney’s fees.

The second situation involves a bit more action on behalf of the landlord. This situation arises when the lease has expired or been terminated, be it by eviction or abandonment, and the tenant has left behind personal property in the dwelling. Under Florida Statute § 715.104, the landlord must give written notice to the tenant or any person he or she reasonably believes to be the owner of the property. The notice must describe the property, must advise the person that reasonable costs of storage may be charged, must state where the property can be claimed, and must set out the date before which the property must be claimed.

If the tenant or owner of the property responds within the date specified and pays the reasonable costs of storage, the landlord must release the property to that person. However, if no one claims the property before the date specified, and the landlord believes that the resale value of the property will be less than $500, he or she may retain it for his or her own use, pursuant to Florida Statute § 715.109. Otherwise, the property must be sold at public sale by competitive bidding.

Although landlords are an integral part of property management businesses in today’s society and their rights and responsibilities are set out by Florida law, disputes between them and their tenants are inevitable in these situations. If you face either of these situations as a landlord or tenant, the attorneys at Oates & Oates have the experience to help counsel you and enforce your rights.

Ellen Stewart is a graduate student pursuing a juris doctor degree at Stetson University College of Law in Saint Petersburg, Florida. She is a legal research assistant for the Law Offices of Oates & Oates, P.A.