I meet with a tired landlord recently at a property where they’d just finished the eviction process.
And this person said multiple times during our meeting that they never wanted to be a landlord ever again.
The reason for this was the tenants owed the landlord quit a bit of money. Months prior to the eviction, one of the tenants had moved out. Because of that fact, they were removed from the lease and doorknobs were changed. But the tenant who moved out did so rapidly and left most of their belongings in the house. Somehow that individual found out the remaining tenant was to be evicted and forcibly entered the house one night shortly before I spoke with the landlord.
Yeah, they broke in. Now, I understand they came to get their personal property back. But breaking and entering is still breaking and entering. And since they had been removed from the lease, they had no right to come into the house. And besides, the landlord told me they would have been more than happy to let their ex-tenant in. But now, they had a police report and a broken door to boot.
As we walked through the house, there were still clothes, toys and furniture everywhere. The landlord was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do with all the stuff. You see, they had already received their writ of possession from the court, which gave them the right to regain control over the property.
I suggested they donate the clothes and toys to the Voluntary Action Center, a local charitable organization. The landlord admitted they didn’t have the manpower to do anything but trash the stuff.
Now, I couldn’t see letting it all go to waste when there are kids in our town who could use it. So, I said I would go get a trailer and come back with some help so we could take it to the VAC.
My brother-in-law, Michael, was willing to hop in the truck with me to do the job. As we were working, Michael got to hear what it sounds like when a tired landlord has had enough.
They were grumbling out loud and all over the place about the whole tale — the break-in and much more. But as the landlord was talking, I heard them voice a common misconception. They said, “I have this piece of paper (pointing at the writ of possession taped to the door) that says that I have my house back and that all this stuff is mine.”
At the truck, Michael asked me about that statement and how evictions work in general. I told him that the eviction process starts with a letter of demand. Those types of letters basically say that a tenant is in violation of the lease in some way — most of the time, it’s nonpayment — and that they have a certain amount of time to pay what they owe or move. And if they don’t, the landlord will file paperwork down at the courthouse called an affidavit of dispossessory which will get a court case started.
A constable will then serve that paperwork to the tenant, and the tenant has seven days from the time they were served to answer. The tenant can answer by saying they agree, disagree or something else. But the point of answering is to tell the court the tenant would like to be heard in front of the judge. After the tenant answers, a court date is set, and what happens next is up to the judge.
I told Michael that in this case, which is the best-case scenario, the tenant didn’t answer in the seven-day period and the court issued a writ of possession on day eight. Michael then asked, “Now all this stuff belongs to the landlord?”
I told him the answer was yes and no. You see, a writ of possession is governed by code section 44-7-55. And in that code section, it says that a writ of possession gives the landlord the power to remove a tenant and or their personal property from the house. The landlord is not responsible for said property, either. But if it is not claimed, then it is to be considered abandoned.
Michael asked me how long tenants have to claim their personal property. I told him overnight is the general rule of thumb, but truthfully, I know of no code section that gives any kind of time frame. Michael said, “So all this stuff isn’t really the landlord’s then, is it?”
I said, “Not technically in accordance with the writ of possession. But since it has been abandoned, the landlord can dispose of it, which will be a good thing for the VAC because there is some great stuff here that doesn’t need to get trashed.”
He shook his head and we got back to work.