Landlord Tenant Q&A

CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Mangers

Q. I recently went to check on a tenant because their rent was late and they weren’t returning my telephone calls. I sent them a letter and additionally posted a copy on the front door saying that I would be inspecting the property several days later. When I arrived and entered the property, I saw that they had moved out but left behind a bunch of junk, broken toys, old clothes, food, and a television. I have no way to contact them, no forwarding address, what am I supposed to do?

A. When a tenant abandons their possessions the Hawaii Revised Statutes 521-56 provides several options for the landlord. The options are based on whether or not the property has value, and the landlord must make this determination in good faith. If the items have value they can be stored at the tenant’s expense, sold, or donated to a charitable organization. If you determine the items have no value you may dispose of them with no restrictions or further requirements.

If the items have any value, the first thing that needs to be done is to write a letter to the tenant stating your intentions concerning their abandoned property. When you don’t have a forwarding address, you need to use the last known address which may be your property. Perhaps the tenant had their mail forwarded at the Post Office; if not, you made a good faith effort to notify them. After the letter is mailed you must wait 15 days before proceeding.

If you are going to donate the items, the 15 day waiting period is adequate. If you are going to sell the items, an additional requirement is placed upon you. You must advertise the sale for three consecutive days in a daily paper of general circulation, in other words, a popular local newspaper within the circuit where the premises are located. You can use the proceeds from the sale to offset your actual costs for advertising and past due rent. You must keep records and the balance of the money has to be held in trust for 30 days. If you do not hear from the tenant you may keep the money. If some items remain unsold you can dispose of them.

No matter what you decide to do, whether the abandoned property has value or not, be sure to take lots of pictures and prepare a written inventory. I suggest taking a second person with you to verify the inventory is complete and accurate or to serve as a witness should there be any misunderstanding or groundless accusations by the tenant in the future.

It seems that you did the smartest thing already on your own. When the rent was late, you inspected the unit in a timely manner following the law. You didn’t let the unpaid rent go for a long period just because the tenant wasn’t returning telephone calls. Being diligent and asking questions when you are unsure is so important in managing rental property for yourself. Although it is your property and you may not be licensed, you are still required to follow all of the State and Federal laws. It is your responsibility to know the laws.

One way to stay informed is to attend NARPM’s 6th Annual Property Management Seminar Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at the Japanese Cultural Center. The purpose of the day-long seminar is to educate people who manage their own property or who are considering coming into the profession. There are many informative speakers and vendors, and you get to take home a comprehensive binder with forms, addenda, and laws.

Visit www.narpmoahu.org for a registration form and more information. For inquiries, email narpmoahu@gmail.com, or contact Liz Ishimitsu at Marie Hansen Properties, Inc.at 388-9680 or Prim LeongNakamoto at Nakamoto Realty, LLC at 6889878 or Laurene Young at Lui & Young Realty, Inc. at 754-4005. Advance reservations are required.

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