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Housing
The Abandoned Tenant Property Statute—What happens when you move out of an apartment and leave personal belongings behind?

When a tenant moves out of an apartment but leaves personal belongings behind, the landlord may not dispose of the property without giving the tenant an opportunity to return to the apartment and remove the belongings. This applies even if the tenant owes rent and even if the tenant was legally evicted by the court.

Does the landlord have to give the tenant notice to remove the property?

In New Jersey, a law called the Abandoned Tenant Property Statute requires landlords to give written notice to former tenants if the landlord wants to dispose of property left by the tenants after they have moved out. The notice must state that the landlord considers the property left behind abandoned. The notice must give the tenant a time period in which to claim the property. This is:

  • 30 days after delivery of the landlord's written notice; or
  • 33 days after the notice is mailed, whichever comes first.

If the property is a manufactured or mobile home, the notice must give the tenant:

  • 75 days from the date of delivery of the notice; or
  • 78 days from the date of mailing, whichever comes first.

The notice must also inform the former tenant that, if the property is not removed, the landlord will sell it at a public or private sale or will dispose of or destroy the property if it has little or no value.

The landlord’s notice must be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by receipted first class mail addressed to the tenant at his or her last known address or addresses. The landlord must mark the envelope “Please Forward.”

What does the tenant have to do after receiving the notice?

If you want your property back, you should immediately notify the landlord that you intend to reclaim the property. You should respond in writing because this will give you an extra 15 days from the time described above to get your property. If you do not notify the landlord in writing, you must remove the property in the time set out in the landlord’s notice (as described above).

If the former tenant returns to recover his property, the landlord must make the property available for removal by the tenant without payment of any unpaid rent. However, the landlord may store the tenant’s property and, if the landlord pays for storage, the tenant must pay the storage charges before removing the property from the premises. The landlord may not charge storage fees that are more than other storage facilities charge in the area where the property is stored.

If the tenant fails to respond to the notice or fails to remove the property within the required amount of time, the landlord may dispose of it either by selling it at a public or private sale or by disposing of it if it has no value. If the landlord sells the property, he may deduct the reasonable costs of notice of the sale, storage, and any unpaid rent and charges not covered by the tenant’s security deposit, but then must give any remainder to the tenant with an itemized accounting.

If the landlord fails to comply with any of the provisions of the Abandoned Tenant Property law, the tenant may sue for twice the actual damages. This means that the tenant may sue for twice the fair market value of the property disposed of by the landlord.

What if I am not able to remove everything before I move?

When moving from an apartment, it is always best to remove all of your belongings from the apartment before you return the key. However, if you are not able to do so, send the landlord a notice that you have not abandoned your property and tell the landlord when you will be returning to remove your property. Also, make sure to send this notice by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you have proof that you have notified the landlord. See a sample notice below.

I think my landlord has violated the law. What can I do?

If your landlord has violated this statute and you would like to sue him, you may obtain complaint forms at the county courthouse in the county where the property is located. Ask for the Special Civil Part if the value of your property, doubled, is $15,000 or less, or the Civil Part, if the value of your property, doubled, is more than $15,000. You can also get the complaint forms at the New Jersey Court's Represent Yourself in Court (Pro Se): Self-Help Resource Center page. When filling out the forms, make sure to indicate that the landlord has failed to comply with the Abandoned Tenant Property Statute, and that you are entitled to double the amount of your damages under the statute.

There is a fee for filing a complaint. However, as with all court fees, the court may waive the fees if  you are indigent (your income is very low). If you are unable to afford the fee, tell the court clerk that you are indigent and ask to have the fee waived.

After filing the complaint, you will get a court date for a trial. At the trial, be prepared to tell the judge exactly how the landlord violated the statute and to prove the value of the property that was left behind. Make sure to bring all of your proof to the trial, including copies of any letters that you sent to the landlord or letters the landlord sent to you. You may also bring witnesses to the trial if they have relevant knowledge about the landlord’s failure to comply with the statute or if they have relevant knowledge of the value of your property if the landlord disposed of the property.

If you have moved out and your landlord has not yet disposed of your property, a judge may order the landlord to return the property to you. If you are afraid that the landlord may dispose of your property before the judge has an opportunity to review your complaint and order the landlord to return the property, you may file an order to show cause with temporary restraints with a verified complaint. An order to show cause is an application to a judge asking the judge, in this case, to issue an order keeping the landlord from disposing of your property until the judge has had a chance to order the landlord to return the property to you. The court should review an order to show cause with temporary restraints as soon as possible after it is filed. If there is good cause, the court will issue the order immediately, restraining the landlord from disposing of the property.

If you need help or have further questions, you may contact LSNJ-LAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).


From: _____________________________
                        Your Name

__________________________________

__________________________________
                        Your Address

 

To: _______________________________
                        Landlord’s Name

_________________________________

_________________________________
                        Landlord’s Address

 

Date:_____________________________
                        Today’s Date

 

Re: ______________________________

_________________________________
            Address of Your Former Apartment

 

Dear Landlord,

Please be informed that I moved out of the above-referenced apartment on ____________, _____.  Unfortunately, I was not able to remove all of my belongings before leaving the apartment and have left the following things in the apartment:

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________.

Please be informed that I have not abandoned this property and I intend to return for these things on _____________, _____, between the hours of ____ a.m./p.m. and ____ a.m./p.m.

If you need to contact me, you can write to me at the above address or call me at ______________.

Very truly yours,

_______________________
                Your Signature​​​

7/23/2015