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What to Do About a Former Roommate's Belongings

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When cohabitation goes sour, your roommate may vacate your shared residence unexpectedly. If your former roommate leaves belongings behind after abruptly moving out, you may wonder what to do with them. Are you required to keep them? Can you sell them or throw them out? An unsavory parting may make contacting your ex-roommate awkward, and you may be unsure how to proceed. While your legal responsibility will depend on the situation and where you live, read on for some guidelines on what to do with your former roommate's neglected possessions.

Check state laws

Your liability for your roommate's property will vary depending on the state you live. Each state has different laws regarding what is considered property abandonment in a rental situation, and how long you are required to hold onto the property (though it's usually about 15-20 days). This period is known as bailment.

Your legal responsibility will also vary if your roommate was on the lease or subletting from you. If you are technically considered his landlord (i.e. he was not on the lease), your liability will be different than if you were just his roommate.

Check the laws in your state to be sure what is expected of you and how to protect yourself. For example, in the state of California, a landlord has to provide a written notice to a tenant about forgotten belongings and allow 15 days for pick up. However, in Colorado, a landlord has no responsibility to store tenant property at all.

Notify your roommate

Even though her tenancy may have ended on a bad note, you may be legally required to let her know she has left her belongings behind. Even if she is aware her items remain in your possession, sending her a formal letter will protect you from liability if you eventually dispose of her things. The context of the letter should go something like this:

Date

Dear (Roommate's Name),

I am writing to inform you that you have left the following possessions in our former shared residence at (address of your home):
  • (Item)

  • (Item)

  • (Item)
I am requesting that you come to pick up your property by (date) or arrange for someone else to do it for you. If not, I will assume that this property is unwanted and dispose of it for you.

Thank you,

(Your name)

If you do not have a current mailing address for your former roommate, you can send the letter via email. Whether mailed or sent digitally, be sure to retain a copy for your personal records.

Notify your landlord/property manager

If your roommate was on the lease, you may not be legally responsible for storing his possessions. Contact your landlord or property manager and let him or her deal with the situation. However, checking your state laws and/or speaking with a lawyer are still good ideas to ensure that you don't have any liability.

Consult an attorney

If you are still unsure about your liability, consult an attorney specializing in tenancy laws to advise you on how to proceed. Every situation is unique, and a lawyer will be able to help you determine the best course of action for your specific circumstances. Any detail overlooked or the slightest error in judgment could wind up costing a lot of money if your former roommate has grounds to sue over misplaced or wrongfully disposed property.

Nicole La Capria  Posted by Nicole La Capria on September 5, 2013

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