When Can you Throw Away the Tenant’s Stuff?

What does a Landlord do, if they think the Tenant has moved out, but there are still some items remaining in the property?

Here are two (2) situations very instructive on this common occurrence:

(1) Lawyers in our firm represented a Landlord who believed a tenant had moved out. The only items left in the apartment were 10 large garbage bags; which the Landlord promptly threw out.

The next thing the Landlord knew, they were being sued by the Tenant who claimed he had $10,000 worth of collectible baseball cards in those bags, and he was entitled to damages—actually triple damages!—for the Landlord throwing them away.

The Landlord hired us, and we found ourselves deep in litigation over these alleged baseball cards. Of course, we couldn’t prove it was just garbage (the trash was long since hauled away), and we suspected the tenant was simply making this up.

The law states the Landlord must “believe in good faith” the property was abandoned and entitled to throw the items out. The court was sympathetic to the tenant—we ended up settling the matter by paying the Tenant.

(2) A Tenant retained us because his landlord had obtained Judgment of Possession, entered the house, and threw away or removed numerous electronics, furniture and other items. The Tenant provided us with pictures of the property—there were still pictures on the walls, cleaning products in the cupboards and food in the refrigerator.

We placed the Landlord on notice these pictures would demonstrate it did not act “in good faith” by claiming the property was abandoned. The Landlord paid a large sum for his actions.

The lesson is simple—if the Landlord intends to throw out the Tenant’s items, it had better do it correctly.

Recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals decided Anderson v Chaudy (.pdf) where the Landlord obtained a Judgment of Possession and even obtained an Order of Eviction. In executing the Order of Eviction, the Tenant’s personal property was initially placed on the front lawn, and then subsequently removed and destroyed.

The court held the Tenant may have a right to claim damages—even triple damages—for the removed property since the removal was not “necessary to effect the eviction nor incidental to the process of eviction.” The court would allow the matter to proceed through litigation.

It is important to provide the appropriate provisions within the Lease to protect the Landlord. We often see Leases that are form documents the Landlord obtained through a friend, or on-line, and these Leases rarely cover this common occurrence.

We have developed a lease designed to protect Landlords from these (and numerous other) situations. Call (248) 643-9530 or email info@zeiglerlaw.com to schedule a consultation.

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