Under the Abandoned Tenant Property Statute, landlords must store property for a limited time when a tenant leaves personal items behind. This law applies whether the tenant has been evicted or the landlord has reason to believe that the tenant has permanently moved out and has no intention of returning. The property does not have to be kept in the unit; it may be stored someplace else. If the property is a manufactured dwelling or residential vehicle, it can be kept in the same spot, or moved to a safe location. This law applies even if the tenant owes rent and was legally evicted.
The law does not apply to abandoned motor vehicles, which may be subject to towing. There are other laws and regulations on towing in New Jersey. The landlord can throw out any food that is likely to spoil and can allow animal control to remove any pets. Otherwise, the landlord has to exercise reasonable care over your belongings. A landlord who complies with the law is not responsible for any lost or damaged property, unless it was caused by something the landlord deliberately or negligently did or failed to do.
If you are being evicted, it is best to try to remove your property before you are locked out. If you cannot do that, try to take pictures of what you may leave or have left behind and work out a time when you can remove the rest of your things. Make sure to read any prior settlement agreements and court orders carefully. Some courts impose a condition that a tenant seeking a stay for orderly removal waive their rights under this law.
Here is a sample letter that you can send to your landlord if you cannot remove all of your belongings before you are evicted:
Address of Your Former Apartment
Please be informed that I moved out of the above-referenced apartment on (enter date). Unfortunately, I was not able to remove all of my belongings before leaving the apartment and have left the following things in the apartment (provide a description of your belongings):
Please be advised that you are required to store my property pursuant to the Abandoned Tenant Property Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:18-72 et seq. If you fail to abide by the Act, you may be liable for double damages.
Please contact me at (enter phone number) so that we can arrange a date and time for me to remove the remainder of my property.
Very truly yours,
Does the landlord have to give the tenant notice to remove the property?
A landlord must give written notice to a former tenant if the landlord wants to dispose of property left by the tenant after he or she has moved out. The notice must be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by receipted first class mail addressed to the tenant, at the tenant's last known address (which may be the address of the premises) and at any other address or addresses known to the landlord. The envelope should indicate “Please Forward.” If the property is a manufactured or mobile home, a copy of the notice must also be sent to the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles, and to anyone who has a lien on the home.
The notice must state:
Example: A landlord sends his former tenant a notice that the property left in the apartment must be removed by May 31 or the landlord will consider the property abandoned. The landlord’s notice must be sent on or before April 28.
What does the tenant have to do after receiving the notice?
Once the tenant receives this notice, it is a good idea to notify the landlord that you intend to remove the property. Then, you must remove the property according to the notice. If you cannot remove the property within that time, you must contact the landlord in writing before the deadline. You will get 15 days from the date of your letter or the original deadline, to remove your property, whichever is later.
Example: As in the previous example, a landlord sends a notice to his former tenant on April 28 that the property left behind must be removed from the premises by May 31. If the tenant sends a notice to the landlord on May 23, the tenant will have until June 7 to remove the property (15 days after May 23). If the tenant sends a notice to the landlord on May 10 that he is not abandoning the property, then he gets no additional time and must remove the property by May 31.
Here is a sample letter that you can you use if you receive a notice regarding your belongings from your landlord:
Address of Your Former Apartment
I am responding to your letter dated (enter date of letter).
I am not abandoning the personal property that I left behind at the above address. Please be aware that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:18-76, my property should not be presumed to be abandoned until (the deadline set in landlord’s letter or 15 days after the date of this letter, whichever is later). I would like to make arrangements to remove my property before that time.
If you need to contact me, you can write to me at (enter address) or call me at (enter phone number).
Very truly yours,
What happens next?
If the former tenant returns to recover his property, the landlord must make the property available for removal by the tenant without payment of any unpaid rent. However, the landlord may store the tenant’s property and charge storage costs. The landlord may not charge storage fees that are more than what other storage facilities charge in the area where the property is stored.
If the tenant fails to respond to the notice or fails to remove the property within the required amount of time, the landlord may sell it at a public or private sale, or dispose of it if it has no value. If the landlord sells the property, the landlord may deduct the reasonable costs of notice of the sale, storage, and any unpaid rent and charges not covered by the tenant’s security deposit, but must give any remainder to the tenant with an itemized accounting.
If the landlord fails to comply with any of the provisions of the Abandoned Tenant Property Law, the tenant may sue for twice the actual damages. This means that the tenant may sue for twice the fair market value of the property disposed of by the landlord.
I think my landlord has violated the law. How can I get my belongings or sue for damages?
The court has printable and fillable forms. See How to Apply For the Return of Your Personal Property or to Return to Your Rental Premises. You would use the forms for returning your personal property. You would list yourself as the plaintiff and the landlord as the defendant. Make sure you have the landlord’s correct name, which can be found on your lease or your rent invoices or receipts.
If the landlord is a company, list the company as the defendant. On the summons, list the name and address of someone who can accept the complaint, known as the registered agent for service of process. There are two ways to find the name and address of the agent for service of process:
The printable fillable forms are for filing in the Special Civil Part, where the jurisdictional limit (the most that a judge could award) is $15,000. You may want to alter the forms to file in the Law Division if double the value of your lost or damaged property is worth more than $15,000. WARNING: If the landlord claims you owe money for back rent or damages to the property, the landlord may file a counterclaim against you.
The packet includes a form “Order to Show Cause for Return of Personal Property and Restraints.” A judge may sign an emergent order restraining your landlord from disposing of any remaining property. Read the order very carefully before leaving court. You may have to serve a copy of the complaint and order on the landlord. The order will give you and the landlord a court date, also known as the return date, to appear in court. On the return date, the judge will likely ask you for a date when you can remove your belongings, and require the landlord to give you access at that time. IMPORTANT: Please make all necessary arrangements to remove all belongings on that date. You should have a witness, in case the landlord fails to comply with the order or agreement.
For property that was disposed of or damaged in violation of the law, the case may proceed to trial to determine damages. You can sue for double the fair market value of your belongings. Make sure to bring all of your proof to the trial, including but not limited to, copies of any letters between you and your landlord, documentation that proves the fair market value, and pictures of your belongings. You may also bring witnesses to the trial if they have knowledge about the items in your apartment.
There is a fee for filing a complaint. The court may waive the fee if you are indigent (your income is very low). If you are unable to afford the fee, then you may apply to have the fee waived. See How to File for a Fee Waiver - All Courts (from NJ Courts).
This information last reviewed: Sep 11, 2020