Tenants are staying longer in their rental homes; 55 percent say they like where they live and have no plans to move—even with a rent increase.

That’s great news for landlords!

But all tenants eventually move out, and unfortunately, some of them don’t leave the place as nice as it was when they moved in.

If you do find that they left their stuff at your rental property, it doesn’t mean a bonanza for you. You need to deal with the abandoned personal property according to the laws of your state.

Garbage left behind

Obvious garbage is one thing. You’re safe to throw out beer bottles, rotting food, and old newspapers. (And I understand if you’re feeling something other than warmth for your ex-tenants at this time.)

But stuff with value—such as TVs, bicycles, furniture, clothes, and those $700 Air Jordan sneakers that someone waited in line to get—need to be dealt with properly. Otherwise, you could pay for any missteps you might make.

Reasons the tenants left

Besides states having different requirements on what landlords need to do when they find abandoned personal property, state laws differ depending on the circumstances under which the tenant left.

For example, you might be able to deal with the property differently when a tenant leaves because the lease is up, versus a tenant who leaves because of eviction or without giving notice.

You can usually treat the property differently if you have written confirmation that the tenant will not be returning.

Common-sense steps

Here are three general, common-sense measures you can take to handle personal property that’s left behind, no matter where you live or why the tenant left.

1. Itemize everything

List all the items of value left behind. Take a photo or video of each item to show its condition.

2. Get a witness

Invite a neutral party to come over (such as a neighbor) to watch you move the items to a safe place in the property itself or to a storage unit.

3. Notify the tenant

Notify your tenant in writing, sent by certified mail to the last known address, with a return receipt requested. You can also send an email to help ensure your tenant sees your notice. Let your tenant know what was left behind and what you’ve done with the property. State that your tenant has until a certain date to claim the property. If the property isn’t picked up by the deadline, state that you will dispose of the property.

Generally speaking, you can deduct any costs that you incur to store or advertise the property for sale from the security deposit. State this in a letter you send to your tenant and explain the reason for withholding the amount.

Here’s a sample letter you could send:

Today’s date

Dear X,

This letter is about your property stored at [address of rental property], left by you on [date tenant left]. This property consists of the following items: [list the items].

To this date, the property has not been picked up. This is your notice that unless this property is picked up by [give date], the property in question will be donated and otherwise disposed of.

Please contact me at [your phone number] or [your address] to coordinate pickup of the property.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

Many landlords choose to allow seven or 10 days for tenants to pick up the property, unless the state specifies the length of time. Many times, if the tenant doesn’t claim their property by the deadline, your state allows you to throw away the personal abandoned property, donate it, or sell it.

Property that becomes yours

You can keep property the tenant left that would now be considered a fixture, which is anything the tenant attached to walls or ceilings.

This includes things like shelves, built-in bookshelves, and lighting equipment. Fixtures that the tenant put in are considered part of the rental property and landlords can keep them.

Abandoned vehicles

If your tenant abandoned that car they never could get running, call the police. Cars often don’t fall under the same laws as other abandoned personal property does. Let the police tow the car and determine whether it was abandoned.

Bottom line

It’s never fun to find abandoned personal property at your rental property. And it’s even less fun if you’re sued for not managing it correctly. But if you handle abandoned property the right way, you won’t have anything to worry about.