With the signing into law of 2011 Wisconsin Act 143, a landlord’s obligations with regard to a tenant’s abandoned property has just gotten much easier.
Prior to Act 143 a landlord had three options with respect to a tenant’s abandoned property. The landlord could:
1. Store the tenant’s abandoned property on or off the premises and take a lien on the property for the actual and reasonable cost of removal and storage of the property, or
2. Dispose of the property if the tenant didn’t reclaim it within 30 days of the landlord sending the tenant written notice of the abandoned property, or
3. Store the abandoned property without a lien and return it to the tenant.
Some landlords got themselves into trouble under the old law. Some would forget to send out the abandoned property notice to the tenant. Some would dispose of the abandoned property prior to 30 days after mailing the notice. Others would refuse to return the tenant’s property unless the tenant paid up all past due rent (this is called distrain and was outlawed years ago). If the tenant’s abandoned property had value sometimes these landlord would get sued. In an effort to educate landlords about this law I even drafted an Abandoned Property Notice form that was sold at Wisconsin Legal Blank noting the 3 options the landlord had.
Wisconsin’s new law regarding tenant’s abandoned property is more simple.
As long as a landlord provides written notice to the tenant — at the time that the tenant enters into the rental agreement or renews the rental agreement — that the landlord is NOT going to store any of the tenant’s abandoned personal property, a landlord is allowed to immediately dispose of the abandoned property in any manner that the landlord, in his sole discretion, feels is appropriate.
There are two exceptions to the new law allowing a landlord to immediately dispose of a tenant’s abandoned property.
First, in the case of prescription medication or prescription medical equipment, a landlord must hold such items for 7 days from the date of discovery to allow the tenant time to retrieve those items. If the tenant contacts the landlord within the 7 day period and requests the return of the medical items the landlord shall promptly return them to the tenant. After the 7 days have passed, the landlord is allowed to dispose of the medical items in any way that he determines to be appropriate.
Second, if the tenant has abandoned a titled vehicle or a mobile or manufactured home, the landlord must give the tenant — and any secured party that the landlord has actual notice of — written notice of the landlord’s intent to dispose of the titled vehicle or mobile/manufactured home, personally or by regular or certified mail addressed to the tenant’s last known address.
So for those of you that want to avail yourself of this streamlined process of the key is to provide the required “notice” language to the tenant. It makes the most since to simply include the required language in your rental agreement and any renewal agreement.
Below is the sample notice language that I added to the rental agreement that I draft for Wisconsin Legal Blank.
ABANDONED PROPERTY: Landlord will not store any items of personal property that tenant leaves behind when tenant vacates, except for prescription medication or prescription medical equipment, which will be held for seven (7) days from the date of discovery. If tenant abandons a manufactured or mobile home or a titled vehicle, landlord will give tenant and any other secured party that landlord is aware of, written notice of intent to dispose of the property by personal service, regular mail, or certified mail to tenant’s last known address.
Please be aware that if you fail to provide the required notice to your tenant then you will be required to abide by the old law and follow one of the three options explained earlier in this post.
It is important to note however, that this new law does NOT relieve a landlord of his duty to evict a tenant through the judicial eviction process if the tenant has not vacated. A landlord should not just assume that the tenant’s property is abandoned and the tenant has vacated the unit. A landlord still must make the very important (and sometimes costly) analysis on a case by case basis as to whether or not the tenant is still living in the unit or whether he has vacated and abandoned his property. This new law does not prevent a tenant from suing a landlord for double damages and attorney’s fees for engaging in a self-help eviction. All this law does is make it simpler and easier to dispose of a tenant’s abandoned property once the tenant has vacated the rental property.