New Jersey’s Abandoned Property Act sets forth guidelines for landlords and tenants in handling the issue of Abandoned Belongings. Under the Act, before discarding any of the tenant’s belongings, a landlord must provide a former tenant with 30 days written notice of the tenant’s right to claim the belongings. The Notice should be sent via certified mail to the tenant’s last known address, which is sometimes the address that the tenant just vacated. It is important to note that the landlord does not need to prove that the tenant actually received the Notice. Since the tenant has the option of having his mail forwarded, the law does not place the burden upon the landlord to try to figure out the tenant’s new address.
After providing the tenant with notice of his or her right to claim any belongings, the landlord must not discard the belongings until after the 30 day notice period has lapsed. In some cases, landlords may choose to leave the belongings in the rented premises. In other cases, where leaving the belongings in the dwelling is not practical, the landlord may, at his discretion, transport the belongings to another location. If the landlord is charged a fee for storage, the landlord has the right to ask the tenant to pay that fee, provided it is reasonable.
Consequences of Failing to Comply
As much as the Abandoned Property Act protects tenants from having their belongings discarded, the Act also protects landlords from tenants who may try to make a claim for their belongings after the 30 day reclamation period has lapsed. Landlords who choose to not comply with this Act, and either fail to serve a Notice, or discard their tenants belongings in sooner than 30 days are taking a calculated risk that may backfire, if the tenant later decides to sue for the value of his discarded belongings.
Consequences of Orderly Removal
Under the New Jersey Court Rules, a tenant who is facing a lockout following an eviction action may apply to the Court for an extra week to remain in the premises and remove his belongings. This procedure is commonly known as an “Application for Orderly Removal.” Traditionally, Judges have included language in the Order for Orderly Removal, setting forth that any belongings left in the rented premises will be considered abandoned. However, not all Judges include this provision, so it is best to check the Order to be sure.
Other Considerations for Residential Tenants
For some landlords, who are already owed a substantial amount of unpaid rent, the prospect of having to wait an additional 30 days to dispose of the defaulting tenant’s belongings is an option that the landlord is simply not willing to consider. Some landlords will take a calculated risk of disposing of the tenant’s items without sending a notice, or alternatively, within 30 days of sending the Notice. Landlords who choose this course of action, which we do not recommend, should note that even a tenant who has been locked out, may apply to the Court for additional time, up to ten days following lockout. Therefore, it is highly recommended that landlords refrain from moving any of a tenant’s belongings for at least ten days following a lockout. Finally, please note that the Abandoned Property Act does not apply to domestic animals or motor vehicles. If you tenant left any of these items, please contact this office for the proper procedure before discarding them.
Other Considerations for Commercial Tenants
In cases where the proceeds of sale of the Abandoned Belongings would justify the efforts of conducting a sale, the landlord may sell the abandoned belongings in a manner consistent with part 12A:9-601 et. seq. of the Uniform Commercial Code. Finally, under recent amendments to the Abandoned Property Act, parties to commercial leases can waive their rights under the Act so long as the waiver is made in writing.