There are a few reasons why your landlord might possess your property without you residing in your apartment. The two most likely scenarios include you being evicted or you moving out and leaving stuff behind. In both cases, you do have recourse.
Eviction is more common than you might think. NPR reports that there were more than 2.3 million evictions in 2016. Digging into the data deeper, it appears the majority of the nation's evictions are in South, ranging from Georgia up to Virginia.
If you've been evicted, you may have legal rights that allow you to get your possessions back from your landlord. Your belongings consist of nearly anything you own in and around the apartment including furniture, cars, appliances, clothing or any other material goods.
As with most legal rental matters, laws differ from state to state and municipality to municipality, so be sure to check the laws in your town. You shouldn't need to find a lawyer — a Google search should suffice. But in most circumstances, you have legal rights to your property.
In most states, upon eviction, your landlord can bar you from residing in the apartment but can't magically keep your stuff. You normally have 10 days to give notice — by phone call and by letter — to your landlord that you intend to move your property out of the apartment. After contact, you usually have 15 or 30 days to claim your belongings before you give up your right to them.
At this point, your landlord legally has to comply with your request or face legal action himself, and provide, as explained in the Nevada statute:
“Reasonable access and opportunity for the tenant to retrieve personal property."
But remember, if you're evicted, it's not required that your landlord give you notice you left property behind. You must initiate the contact.
You have time allotted to get a truck or a friend and get your stuff out of the unit. But beware — after 10 days (in most cases) from your eviction, your now-former landlord has the right to charge you, “in good faith," a storage fee for your junk.
Most states have similar statutes, but the number of days can vary, as well as if the landlord needs to be present to supervise. Check around.
Sometimes you have to pick up and move in a hurry, or at least without a ton of advance planning. It's certainly reasonable that you might have to move before you can get all of your stuff out. Additionally, as we are all human, it's possible that upon move-out, you forgot to empty a closet or check a storage locker. There's good news on that front.
In most states (with some differences here and there), if your landlord discovers you have left some of your possessions in your apartment, he or she, by law, must send you written notice that you've left property behind and give you recourse to recover it.
But as in the eviction example, the landlord only needs to provide you 30 days' notice (or whatever the number is in your state) to get your stuff, and can start charging you for storage after 10.
But when you move out, you must make sure you provide your now former landlord with a forwarding address, or he or she will have to send that notice to your old address, which is the apartment you just moved out of, and that's some circular logic. In some states, if there's no forwarding address, the landlord is then required to place a classified ad – yes, in an actual newspaper.
Remember, this does not apply in every state. In some places, your landlord can sell, keep or throw away your items immediately.
Regardless of why your property was left behind, there are still other rules and laws that apply to protect both you and your landlord.
Don't let your landlord keep your stuff hostage. He or she is not allowed to require you pay back rent before you can get your stuff without filing a lien on you. They can only charge you storage costs.
But storage doesn't have to mean in your old apartment. The landlord can record, move and store your property offsite (often with a requirement that a county sheriff supervises and give authorization) and charge you for that inventory and travel as well. All those costs must be paid before you can get your property back.
And if your landlord simply refuses to return your belongings or you don't agree with the storage costs he or she is charging, your next move is to file a complaint with the Bureau of Consumer Protection or sue them in your local court.