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How To Handle Personal Property In A Forced Eviction

What happens to a tenant’s personal property after an Indiana eviction is enforced?  Sometimes a tenant does not follow the court order to return possession to the landlord by a certain date.  When this occurs local law enforcement is brought in to force the tenant to leave.  A locksmith will change all the door locks.

Then there is the matter of removal and storage of the tenant’s property.

Tenant’s Personal Property in A Forced Eviction

The following is provided by attorney Kathryn Ransburg of Ransburg Law.

"The removal, storage, and subsequent disposal of tenant property pursuant to an eviction is controlled by statute.  IC 32-31-4 addresses the removal, and IC 26-1-7-210 addresses how the property is handled by the warehouseman after removal.  Under no circumstances can the owner/landlord take possession of a tenant's belongings, whether it's to sell or throw away, unless there is a reasonable belief that the property was abandoned. The bar for determining if property is abandoned is set high so that people are not wrongfully deprived of their personal property."  

In a forced eviction (the tenant staying in possession past the legal possession date) personal property has not been abandoned.  This is where a landlord has to work closely with the movers to ensure the tenant’s possessions are handled properly.

Owner’s Obligations and How Tenant Can Recover Their Possessions

The owner of the housing is required to pay for the removal of the tenant's belongings from the property.  A licensed and bonded moving company has to be hired to arrive at the time of taking possession.  Often the mover and the law enforcement agent will walk the property to identify what needs to be moved and stored.

The mover is required to post a notice telling the tenant where the property is being stored. The moving fee can be included in the request for damages suit.  WILMOTH requests a damages hearing with the court.  This hearing will occur 60-90 days after the eviction.  During that time documentation of all the costs that are considered extraordinary and caused by the former tenant can be completed.

It is then up to the former tenant to make arrangements to pay the storage fees to the mover in order to get their items back. The former tenant has 90 days to either retrieve their items or make payment arrangements. After that, the personal property goes to auction.

Personal Property That Does Not Get Moved

The movers are supposed to take anything from the property that is not trash.  They also will not take medication, food, dirty dishes, and broken furniture. Whatever is left (except for medications) can be disposed of by the landlord

The biggest issue is that the movers won't take a lot of things like family photos, baby books, personal papers, schoolbooks and other items that are not trash but have no auction value.   If these items have been left in the home, the landlord is well advised to make every effort to locate the former tenant and allow them to pick up these items.  At minimum, a posting should also be made at the property providing the former tenant a phone number to call to retrieve their possessions. Unfortunately, this posting should last 90 days before items may be destroyed.

If anything is left that falls outside those categories (and including medication), the landlord should make every effort to allow the tenant to retrieve these items before doing anything with them. Per Ransburg  “Judges do not like it when landlords just arbitrarily decide to dispose of a tenant's personal belongings.”

As a property manager, when these types of items have been left behind, we have boxed them up and held them until the 90 days are up.  It is very important that we make every attempt to return items considered personal and not trash to the former tenant.

Personal Property Held by Movers

What happens if the tenant has not retrieved their items or entered a payment plan with the mover within 90 days?  Per the statute these stored items may go to auction. Then whatever money those items bring at auction is applied to the tenant's balance for moving and storage.  In almost 30 years we have never seen the auction items begin to cover the cost of moving and storage.

The good news is usually the tenant leaves on their own.  And takes all the items of value to them.  Unfortunately, sometimes this does not happen and when there is personal property, we have to follow the rules above in order to properly dispose of them.

Most states have similar procedures.  If you are reviewing this for a property in a state other than Indiana, please consult with your local legal counsel to ensure you properly follow local law.

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