So Your Roommate Left Their Stuff Behind? Here’s How to Handle This Situation

Sometimes roommates can leave you holding a lot of baggage, both figuratively and literally. If your spare bedroom or garage is full of your ex-roommate's stuff, you may be wondering when it's safe to get rid of it. It depends on when the person's property is considered abandoned under the law. Here's what you need to know so you can handle this situation without getting slapped with a lawsuit.

Laws Regarding Abandoned Property

The laws that dictate what you're allowed to do with property left behind by a roommate are contingent upon the nature of your relationship with the person. If you had a landlord-tenant relationship with the individual (e.g., you rented space to the person and lived with them at the same time), you are typically required to notify your ex-roommate that you have his or her belongings and keep those items in a safe place for a specific period of time. The time varies depending on where you live.

Landlords in Florida, for instance, only have to hold onto the belongings for up to 15 days, after which he or she can keep, sell, or throw the items away. Minnesota, on the other hand, requires landlords to retain the property for 60 days before disposing of it.

Unfortunately, things aren't as cut and dried if you and your roommate were co-tenants (e.g., you both rented the space from a third party). Oftentimes, your legal rights to the property will follow the general abandoned or unclaimed property laws in your state, and the courts will consider the circumstances when determining if you had the legal right to get rid of the person's stuff.

For example, common law dictates that when a person leaves property behind with the intent to abandon it, the first person who comes across the items has the right to take possession of them after any waiting period the law imposes. Therefore, if it appears your roommate didn't want the items (e.g., they are in disrepair), then you can claim them under the abandoned/unclaimed property statute and dispose of them as you wish.

On the other hand, if your ex-roommate indicated he or she wanted those items or they don't appear to be items someone would abandon, then you are expected to keep them for a reasonable period of time and give the person the opportunity to retrieve them.

The question then becomes what would be considered a reasonable period of time. You probably won't go wrong by following the abandoned property laws for landlords in your state. If the time period prescribed is really short (e.g., 10 to 15 days), you may want to wait twice or three times that long before doing anything with the property. This way, you can show the court you gave the person ample time to get his or her belongings. Don't forget to notify your ex-roommate about his or her property and your intentions so the person can't say he or she didn't know you were going to throw the stuff away.

Another option is to let the actual landlord of the rental unit deal with the person's stuff. The landlord will typically know what to do and you won't have to worry about getting sued by your ex-roommate for getting rid of belongings he or she wanted to keep.

Safe Storage

Regardless of which situation you are in, the law generally requires you to keep the person's belonging in a safe place. However, that doesn't mean you must let your ex-roommate's stuff clutter up your home. You can put it in a storage unit as long as you take reasonable steps to secure the items (e.g., put a lock on the unit). In some cases, you can charge the ex-roommate the storage fees, which you can require the individual to pay before you hand over the key to the unit.

If the laws are really vague or you just want to cover all your legal bases, it's best to consult with an attorney about this issue. For assistance with finding a safe place to store the leftover stuff while you deal with your ex-roommate, contact a storage facility like Redondo Van & Storage.