Can an old tenant press charges on me?

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Can an old tenant press charges on me?

I recently moved out of a house I was renting and the old tenant left clothes and other things so the landlord told me to throw them away. And now the old tenant is talking about pressing charges on me for theft. Can they press charges?

Asked on November 11, 2017 under Criminal Law, Virginia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Yes, in theory (though see below for how the circumstances can affect this), they can look to press charges and/or sue you for the value of what they threw out: you disposed of their belongings. You had no right to do this, and the landlord had no power to give you the right to do it: the landlord cannot give you the authority to throw out another's belongings (the landlord could tell you to throw out the *landlord's* property, not a former tenant's). There are legal ways a landlord could dispose of another tenant's property if left behind: but tellng a new tenant to dispose of them is not one of them. In the future, if another tenant leaves anything behind, tell the *landlord*  to remove it--it is the landlord's legal obligation to deal with the items and situation.
In this case, as stated, you were theoretically in the wrong. If the items had been there a very long time and the landlord had never told the tenant he/she could leave them there, but rather had asked (in writing) the tenant to retrieve them or else they would be disposed of, that could make it the case that in this situation, they were considered abandoned; if so, then anyone, including you, could dispose of them. But that requires facts showing  that the tenant gave up his/her rights to them. If the facts show otherwise--e.g., say the landlord had told the tenant he/she could leave things behind and get them later, or the tenant had asked the landlord to hold/store items and the landlord had never said they wouldn't--then the items were not abandoned and you could be liable for disposing of them.
To summarize: generally, tenant B may  not dispose of tenant's A belongings, and the landlord cannot empower them to do so. If the facts show that tenant A abandoned the items and gave up his/her claim to them, then there would be no liability; but if the facts show that A had some expectation based on the circumstances or communications that the items would be held for him/her, then there could be liability.


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