California landlords must follow very specific steps before disposing of property that is clearly abandoned, left on real estate which has been the subject of court proceedings such as eviction or foreclosure, or otherwise left behind. Following the statutory procedures relating to abandoned property protects landlords from potential liability for an improper “conversion.”
Former tenants/owners and others “reasonably believed” to be owners of the apparently abandoned personal property must be given proper written notice of the right to reclaim the abandoned property. The tenant is presumed to be the owner of any “records” remaining on the property. The California Code of Civil Procedure provides a template for such notice. The notice to be provided to former tenants/owners must be in “substantially” the same form provided in the California Code of Civil Procedure and must contain the following information:
- A description of the abandoned property in a manner reasonably adequate to permit the owner of the property to identify it;
- The location where the tenant can claim the property;
- The time frame that the tenant has to claim the property. The date specified in the notice shall be a date not less than fifteen (15) days after the notice is personally delivered or, if mailed, not less than eighteen (18) days after the notice is deposited in the mail;
- A statement that reasonable storage costs will be charged to the tenant/owner and the tenant/owner must pay those costs before claiming the property; and
In addition, the notice must also contain one the following statements:
- If you fail to reclaim the property, it will be sold at a public sale after notice of the sale has been given by publication. You have the right to bid on the property at this sale. After the property is sold and the cost of storage, advertising, and sale is deducted, the remaining money will be paid over to the county. You may claim the remaining money at any time within one year after the county receives the money.
- Because this property is believed to be worth less than $700, it may be kept, sold, or destroyed without further notice if you fail to reclaim it within the time indicated above.
This notice must be served either by personal delivery to the former tenant and non-tenant supposed property owners; or by first-class, postage prepaid mail addressed as follows: (a) to the former tenants’ and other supposed owners’ last known address; and (b) if there is “reason to believe” that notice sent to the last known address will not be received by the person entitled to notice, also to such other addresses known to the landlord where the person may reasonably be expected to receive the notice (i.e. tenant’s attorney, if any); and (c) if the notice is sent by mail to the former tenant, one copy shall be sent to the premises vacated by the tenant. If the former tenant provided the landlord with the tenant’s email address, the landlord may also send the notice by email.
If the tenant/owner does not claim the property in the allotted time, the landlord can sell the property at a public auction. However, do to so, the landlord must provide notice of the sale in a local newspaper with general circulation at least five (5) days before the sale. Please note that the tenant/owner can still claim the property any time before the sale, but the tenant/owner must pay for the costs of storage up to this point and the costs of advertising before reclaiming the property. Once the property is sold, the proceeds of the sale can be used to pay for costs of storing the property and advertising, however, any leftover money must be returned to the treasury of the county within thirty (30) of the sale. The former tenant or owner may claim the balance within one year from the date of payment to the county by making application to the county treasurer or other official designated by the county.
In the event that you believe the property is worth less than $700, then pursuant to the Code of Civil Procedure, you can choose to keep the property or dispose of the property in any legal manner.