If my subtenant left a personal item behind, legally what can I do with it?

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If my subtenant left a personal item behind, legally what can I do with it?

I sublet an apartment to someone through a verbal agreement. Due to the subtenant not paying rent, committing theft and using marijuana, I asked them to leave and pay his rent, giving him 2 weeks verbal notice. However, he left without notice but left a suitcase of belongings in the room. When returning to pick up suitcase, I confronted him about the rent and asked to be paid. He refused to pay, so I proceeded to contact the police, at which point the subtenant ran away. The police informed me that I could not take legal action due to not having a lease with the subtenant. It has been a week and he has not returned for his belongings. Am I required to keep his belongings or can I drop it off at the police station?

Asked on November 3, 2015 under Real Estate Law, New Jersey

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

The police are wrong: there *was* a lease--an oral (or unwritten) lease containing the terms under which you sublet the space (e.g. how much he would pay)--this is what you called a verbal lease, but the correct term is oral.  Anytime you get rent for an apartment, there is, by definition, at least a simple oral lease containing the terms that in exchange for paying $XXX, the tenant or subtenant gets possession of the space.
In New Jersey, this situation is governed by the Abandoned Property Act. You need to send the tenant a letter stating that he left property behind; that he has 33 days from when you sent the letter to retrieve it; and that is he does not retrieve it, you will then dispose of it as permitted by law. (Basically, if anything has value, sell it and appy to any unpaid rent; if it's not valuable, throw it out.) Mail the letter by regular mail and certified mail, return receipt requested. Send it to his current address, if you know it, or to his last known address (including the sublet apartment) with instructions on the envelop to the post office to "please forward" if possible. After the time period is up, you can dispose of the item(s); until then, you have to keep them safe.


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