When you finally get around to cleaning out your closets, you may stumble on more than your old items. Often, people who were in your life in one way or the other leave behind more than memories. They leave behind their stuff. Often lots of stuff.  Old clothing, mystery boxes, even cash can be abandoned by a former tenant or relative. Before you dispose of or claim these items, you need to know your legal rights.

Abandoned Property

The laws concerning abandoned property vary depending on the state where you reside, but once items are designated abandoned, you can safely do what you want with the items, including selling them or throwing them away. You should document any contact you have with the owner in regard to their reclaiming these items. After a reasonable period of time, if the owner does not return for their clothes or other items, you should feel confident that the property is now yours. You would be wise to check your state's laws regarding property before you proceed. For instance, California requires that you notify former roommates and give them 15 days to pick up their stuff. Once you've followed your state's guidelines, you should be free to do as you wish. If you want to wear the left behind shoes or burn their old leather jacket you always despised, go ahead.


If expensive items are involved, you do need to take a more cautious approach. For instance, if your former partner or roommate leaves behind a car, you can't simply unload it. You would need the title to do that. You may be within your rights to have the vehicle towed, however. If you find a stash of cash or fine jewelry, you would be well advised to contact a lawyer about your rights before you spend the money or sell the property. If someone claims the items in six weeks or a month, you don't want to be legally vulnerable.

You are not required to store someone else's stuff indefinitely. Unless you have a large home and unlimited storage, that route is simply not practical. If your former tenant owes you money, selling their abandoned stuff may help you recoup your losses. As long as you follow your state's laws, you should face no adverse consequences from claiming most items. If you have any questions, protect yourself by consulting with an experienced attorney.