This four-part series outlines an association’s legal obligations when dealing with unchaperoned personal property – which may include items that appear to be trash, but could be of value to someone. Associations must take care to identify the character of property left in common area due to potential liability if certain precautions are not taken. This series of articles is not intended as legal advice, but can serve as a general guide to dealing with unchaperoned personal property. As always, we suggest consulting with an attorney when handling legal matters.

In Part One of the series, we discussed the importance of identifying the character of personal property and the general legal standards for doing so. In Part Two of the series, we will outline the process for handling property which has been identified as “abandoned” property. As a reminder, personal property may generally be deemed “abandoned” if it appears that it has been left behind on the premises after a resident (whether tenant or member) has terminated their residency and vacated the premises.

The “Abandoned Property” Statutory Procedure:

The Association cannot simply dispose of abandoned personal property. California Civil Code section 1986 states that the association may either keep the abandoned property onsite or move it to a storage facility until the required waiting period prior to disposal. The association will be deemed responsible for keeping the property reasonably safe until it has completed the prescribed statutory procedure. It is thus imperative that an association maintain its records of following the procedures mandated by the Civil Code to protect itself from claims of damage.

California Civil Code section 1983 requires that a property owner (in this regard, the association) send written notice before it may dispose of abandoned property. The requirements for that written notice are specified in Civil Code sections 1984 through 1985. The notice identifies the property, informs former residents and other possible owners and secured creditors that they have 18 days (if notice is sent by mail) to claim the property, and describes how the property will be disposed of after the notice period. An inventory of the abandoned property is necessary because the association is required to generally describe the abandoned property in the written notice. The notice must also advise that reasonable storage costs for the property may be charged before its return, where the property may be claimed, and the deadline by which the property must be claimed. The deadline in the notice must be at least 15 days after the notice is personally delivered or at least 18 days after the notice is mailed. If the notice is mailed, it must be sent by first-class mail to the former resident’s last known address and, if there is reason to believe that the notice sent to that address will not be received by that person, also to any other address known to the association where the person may reasonably be expected to receive the notice. The association should keep a copy and proof of mailing.

After the notice has been sent and the deadline to respond has passed, the association may either release the property to the resident pursuant to Civil Code section 1987 or dispose of the property pursuant to Section 1988. In the event that the former resident claims the personal property, Civil Code section 1987 controls. Pursuant to Section 1987, the Association may release the personal property and charge the reasonable cost of storage, among other fees, subject to limitations outlined in Civil Code section 1990.

Pursuant to Civil Code section 1988, it the former owner or tenant has not claimed the personal property by the deadline outlined in the association’s written notice, the abandoned personal property must be sold at public sale by competitive bidding, unless the association reasonably believes that the total resale value of the property not released is less than $700. When the personal property is reasonably believed to have a resale value of $700 or more, the Association must sell the property at a public sale and deposit the proceeds, after deducting the costs of storage, advertising, and sale, into the county treasury.

For more information on how to handle lost and returnable property, please check back in the following weeks for parts three and four of this series.

Written by Jonathan R. Davis

Jonathan R. Davis, Esq. is a Senior Associate Attorney at Richardson|Ober|DeNichilo.