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What are landlord's rights & responsibilities regarding personal property when tenant is in prison?

San Francisco, CA |

Tenant was several mo's behind in rent, ended up getting arrested. Landlord found out about 2 mo's later. At 3 mo's mark, tenant was sentenced to almost a year and a half. What are landlord's rights & caveats regarding disposition of tenant's personal property?
Should landlord put items into storage?
Can items be withheld until tenant makes payment?
Must landlord release items and hope for reimbursement of storage costs? Or file suit if not paid?
Is landlord allowed to let tenant's friends into apt to remove items?
If so, is some sort of written/signed document necessary to give permission & protect landlord?
Or will this set landlord up for suit by tenant?
NOTE - one friend has offered to take some but not all items. Family not willing to help out as they are estranged from tenant.

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Attorney answers 2


You can write tenant in prison. Tell tenant that you need written instructions as to what to do with his items. Get the written instructions. You can't withhold items until tenant makes payment, but you can sue tenant in small claims court and get a judgment.

Actively practicing law in Texas. Inactive licenses in Arizona and Georgia. All answers are general in nature and no attorney/client relationship exists in this forum.



If I put items into storage for tenant, can I give him a deadline to collect them once he's out of prison? I do not want to hold items indefinitely. I seriously doubt he will repay the storage expense and would blow off any judgement. He'll take advantage of me as long as possible.

Cheryl Rivera Smith

Cheryl Rivera Smith


Assuming he gets out soon, that's a great idea. If he doesn't get out any time soon, I would put them in storage, give him a deadline to make arrangements (he will have friends) or send you funds for the storage fee, and tell him the property will be deemed abandoned if the property isn't picked up by the reasonable deadline you set. I usually give 30 days, but you may want to give him 60 days due to the circumstances. Your call.


First step. Obtain possession of your rental. I would recommend a notice of belief of abandonment instead of a 3 day pay or quit. The rules concerning the property once you obtain possession are both twisted and convoluted, even for attorneys who are familiar with the process. I agree with Frisco that a written agreement as to the disposition of the property is in your best interest. Talk to an experienced attorney in your area.

A proper response would require a thorough investigation into the history and background of this relationship. The information provided above is just that, information, to be used as you see fit.

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