What Should You Do If Tenants Demand Their Property Back?

Ideally, a tenant who has forgotten to take their personal property after moving out will contact you to get it back. If not, try to contact the tenant to pick up their possessions. If you can’t reach them, check the tenant’s rental application and call the personal or business references listed there.

In most cases, if a tenant is willing to get their property back, even if they owe you money, return everything to them. If a tenant owes you money—for example, back rent—you cannot insist that they pay you the back rent before you return their property. You can, however, deduct the back rent from any security deposit you collected. Remember the state-specific timeframe for returning security deposits after the tenant's departure still applies even if the tenant has left personal property behind.

There’s one exception, however: you may be able to ask the tenant pay your costs of moving and storing the property before you return it. If you’ve kept the property on the premises vacated by the tenant, you may be entitled to insist on a prorated daily rental charge for the property and/or a co-payment for the rental of storage space. You can also subtract the value of your time for packing up the tenant’s property.

However, in most situations where there is not a lot of property, we recommend you give the tenant their belongings without any charges, particularly if you didn’t incur any real out-of-pocket expenses. Evaluate the costs and benefits of the situation. It’s usually not worth it to open a dispute over $75 worth of used books, records, and old clothes. If you insist on overcharging for storage charge and the tenant refuses to pay it, you will end up having to keep or sell the tenant’s property. As a result, the tenant can file a lawsuit against you, and the judge may hold you liable for the full value of the property, as your storage charge was unreasonable in the first place.