30 June 2007
For many decades the law has specified a procedure for when a tenant who, whether voluntarily vacated or forcibly evicted from the unit, has left behind personal property upon the termination of that person’s tenancy. If the property remains unclaimed after the statutory 15 or 18-day notice period, the disposition of the property depends upon whether the landlord reasonably believes the total resale value of the unclaimed personal property is less than $300. If reasonably believed to be worth less than $300, the landlord may retain the tenant’s unclaimed personal property for his or her own use or dispose of it in any manner, including selling it and retaining the proceeds. If the total value of the unclaimed personal property is reasonably believed to be at least $300, then the landlord must dispose of the property through an advertised public sale open to competitive bidding. In this case, landlords can deduct the costs of storage, advertising, and sale, any balance of the sale proceeds is held for the tenant for 30 days. If the amount is not claimed, the tenant turns over the proceeds to the county treasury for claim within one year from the date of payment to that county.
The law also requires landlords to provide written notice to a former tenant of the tenant’s right to reclaim personal property left behind when the tenancy was terminated. The notice must inform the tenant whether the landlord intends to hold a public sale for the property, or keep, sell, or destroy the property without further notice because the landlord believes the property to be worth less than $300. Current law allows a tenant at least 15 days to claim the property if the notice is personally delivered or at least 18 days if the notice is mailed.
Mr. Adams bill proposes to increase the threshold from $300 to $650 the total value of a terminated tenant’s unclaimed personal property that the landlord may retain for his or her own use, or to dispose of in any manner, instead of having to sell the property at a public sale and to hold any excess sales proceeds for the tenant. The sponsors, the State Bar of California and the Apartment Association of Los Angeles (AAGLA) argue that the current monetary threshold is too low an amount in the 21st century before a landlord is forced to resort to having the former tenant’s personal property sold at a public sale. They also argue that none of the former tenant’s rights are abrogated by this increase, which incidentally has not been changed since 1982. Finally, they observe that it is not economical to endure the public notice and public sale process for property that is not worth that much.
If one analyzes the merits of the bill based on a cost of living, then the application of the $300 threshold would be adjusted to an increase to $438.
The Apartment Association of CA Southern Cities analyzed the bill and determined that it would “SUPPORT” the bill.
The bill sailed through the Assembly. Every interest group that would be concerned with the bill “signed off” or supported the measure.
Then it hit the Senate Judiciary Committee, where opposition came from some of the committee members. They argued that many other laws have not been adjusted for cost of living and most importantly, the personal property of the former tenant does not belong to the landlord and as a consequence the landlord should not profit by this matter.
So, it does not appear that the law may change to bring logic to the disposition of a former tenant’s unclaimed personal property. Just remember, $300 designer jeans and Rolex watches are still safe under current law.