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What do you do when a commercial tenant leaves property behind?

When a commercial tenant leaves under less-than-favorable circumstances (either through eviction or outright desertion in the middle of the night), a lot of their personal property can be left behind.

Even once you’ve legally regained possession of the building, however, you don’t automatically become the legal owner of anything your tenant left behind. That may include things like supplies, office furniture, factory equipment, personal effects, records, electronics and all manner of trash.

So, what are your options?

If your tenant was evicted, you can remove the items left behind to the property line (essentially, putting it all on the curb) after the sheriff executes the writ of possession, although, it is usually best if you allow the tenant advance knowledge of when you intend to do so.

In other circumstances, where it isn’t entirely clear if there has been actual abandonment (like when a tenant mysteriously vanishes without notice and many other situations), you need to go through more formal steps, which include:

  • Notifying the tenant in writing that you have the property
  • Provide a description of the property
  • Notify the tenant that you may charge a reasonable amount for storage before returning the property
  • Explain where the property may be claimed
  • Give the tenant at least 10 days after the notice is delivered (15, if the notice is sent by mail)

If the tenant fails to claim the property in the given time, the property must be sold at public auction after advertising the same. Once reasonable fees are deducted for the sale, storage and advertising costs, the proceeds from the auction belong to the tenant, not the landlord. As such, they have to either be returned to the tenant in person or deposited with the county treasury for safekeeping.

The procedure set out in Florida’s law is actually highly specific, which is why many landlords seek legal assistance with the problem. If you’re unsure about what to do with a tenant’s belongings, an experienced attorney may be able to help.