Steps a Landlord Must Follow to Get Rid of a Tenant's Property (FAQ)
Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
If you move out of a rental house or apartment and leave things behind this article will help you:
- Learn the steps your landlord is supposed to follow
- Learn what your rights are to get your property back
Your landlord should inventory your things and send you a notice with a deadline to claim you property. Your landlord may dispose of certain things right away. You can find the law that says what your landlord is supposed to do at Montana Code Annotated (M.C.A.) § 70-24-430. The “§” is a symbol that means section. 70 is the Title number 24 is the Chapter number. 430 is the Part number.
If you own a manufactured home and rent the lot, what your landlord has to do is different than what is explained in this article. You can find the law for that at M.C.A § 70-33-430.
What happens to the personal property you left behind?
If you leave things behind in your rental when you move out your landlord must follow the law. This is what the law says the landlord must do:
- Your landlord must have clear and convincing evidence that you abandoned the property you did not take with you. Once your landlord has that evidence they must wait 48 hours.
- After the 48 hours passes the landlord can immediately remove your property from the rental. The landlord can immediately dispose of any trash or personal property that is hazardous, perishable, or valueless.
- If anything is labeled as “rent to own” or “leased,” the landlord must make a reasonable effort to contact the business that rented or leased the item to you, to confirm that there's no money owed on the item.
- Your Landlord must inventory the property, put it in a safe place and take reasonable care of it.
- Your landlord may charge you a reasonable fee for labor and storage.
- Your landlord must send a written notice by certificate of mailing or certified mail to your last known address telling you the property will be disposed of not less than 10 days after the notice is mailed if you do not come and get it.
- If you respond in writing before the deadline in the notice, you have 7 days after your response is delivered to claim your property. If you do not claim it within those 7 days is becomes abandoned and your landlord can dispose of it.
- If you remove the property within the 7 days, the landlord can charge you for storage costs, plus the costs of moving the items into storage.
- If you don't remove the property within the 7 days, your landlord can dispose of property by selling it at a public or private sale or by destroying it if the cost of storage or sale is more than the money value of the property.
- If the landlord sells the property they must keep a detailed accounting. The landlord may deduct from the sale proceeds the costs of storage, labor, and sale along with any rent or damages owed. Any leftover sale proceeds must be returned to you. If the landlord can’t find you they must deposit the money with the county treasurer. The money is held by the county treasurer for 3 years and then becomes the property of the county.
What can the Landlord dispose of right away?
Once your landlord waits the 48 hours after getting evidence that you abandoned the things you left behind they can dispose of any trash or personal property that is hazardous, perishable or valueless.
- Hazardous means anything flammable, or a biohazard, or that can hurt someone
- Perishable mean anything that has to be refrigerated or that has an expiration date
- Valueless means anything with little or no money value if re-sold, but does not include personal photos, jewelry, or other small items that are irreplaceable
Can the landlord throw away my personal property?
Yes. But, only if they have followed the law and determined that it would cost more to store or sell the property than the property is worth. Remember that the value of the property is what the landlord could sell it for, not what you paid for it. Many things are worth far less once they become “used.”
What should I do if I receive notice from a landlord that they have my property?
You should respond immediately and in writing. If you do not remove the property within 7 days after your response, the law presumes you have abandoned your property.
If you go to retrieve your belongings from the landlord, the landlord can charge you a reasonable storage fee or the actual cost of a storage unit and a reasonable fee for labor. A landlord is entitled to payment of the storage costs before you remove the property.
Note: The landlord is not responsible for any loss to you resulting from storage unless the landlord intentionally or negligently damages the property.
Can my landlord hold personal property for back rent owed?
No. If you owe the landlord back rent, the landlord can sue you for it. However, the landlord cannot keep your personal property to pay the rent owed. The law does not allow your landlord to insist on payment of the back rent before you get your property back. But the landlord can require you to pay the costs of moving and storage of your property.
If you leave property behind when you move out there is a process your landlord must follow before they can dispose of your things. If you get a notice from your landlord about property you left behind you should respond and go get the property.
- The State Bar Lawyer Referral Service may provide you with contact information for attorneys who provide the type of assistance you are seeking, for a fee. You can contact the State Bar Lawyer Referral Service at (406) 449-6577 or montanabar.org.
- Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) provides free civil, non-criminal legal help to eligible clients. Learn more about how to apply for free legal help in Montana.
- If you qualify for help from MLSA, you may be able to get free legal advice from a volunteer attorney by email using Ask Karla.