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TJ, Esq.
TJ, Esq., Attorney
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Satisfied Customers: 12411
Experience:  JD, MBA
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I had a person living in my house who left without notice.

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I had a person living in my house who left without notice. They left some of their belongings without discussing any future intentions with me for months. I have since vacated to property and so got rid of all remaining items left in the house. Do they have a case?
Hello and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to assist you.

Since there was no signed lease, that means there was a month-to-month tenancy, which basically just means that the tenancy renewed each month. The tenant should have given you 30 days notice before vacating, so he does owe you unpaid rent. The Washington law which states that is as follows:

RCW 59.18.310

(1) When the tenancy is month-to-month, the tenant shall be liable for the rent for the thirty days following either the date the landlord learns of the abandonment, or the date the next regular rental payment would have become due, whichever first occurs.

As you can see, you are owed 30 days of rent. However, the same law quoted above also states:

[T]he landlord may immediately enter and take possession of any property of the tenant found on the premises and may store the same in any reasonably secure place. A landlord shall make reasonable efforts to provide the tenant with a notice containing the name and address of the landlord and the place where the property is stored and informing the tenant that a sale or disposition of the property shall take place pursuant to this section, and the date of the sale or disposal, and further informing the tenant of the right under RCW 59.18.230 to have the property returned prior to its sale or disposal.

If you did not provide the tenant with any notice that his personal property would be disposed of, then it's possible that you could be held liable because of the above law. Unfortunately, a landlord in Washington is not permitted to dispose of a tenant's personal property even if the personal property appears to be abandoned unless the landlord first provides the tenant with notice. However, if you did not know where the tenant was, then that would be your defense. In other words, you couldn't provide the tenant with notice if you had no idea of where to send the notice. That defense would likely work since the law also states:

The landlord's efforts at notice under this subsection shall be satisfied by the mailing by first-class mail, postage prepaid, of such notice to the tenant's last known address and to any other address provided in writing by the tenant or actually known to the landlord where the tenant might receive the notice.

If you had no address for the tenant, then you could not satisfy the notice requirement.

Does that answer your question? Please let me know if you need clarification, as I am happy to continue helping you until you are satisfied. Also, your positive feedback is much appreciated. Thank you for using our service!

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Customer: replied 4 years ago.
Thank you. My question is this, regarding owed rent on top of incurring multiple overdraft fees due to late rent & utility payments on his behalf, can I legally assume ownership of belongings as debt paid? As I said, the individual never once communicated to me that he wanted the items for safe keeping. And as there is no legal binding agreement in which I agreed to do so as a result, as well as not knowing where he was residing other than his phone number, am I still liable?
Hi again.

Q: My question is this, regarding owed rent on top of incurring multiple overdraft fees due to late rent & utility payments on his behalf, can I legally assume ownership of belongings as debt paid?

A: Washington does allow a landlord's lien, which means that a landlord can take possession and sell a tenant's personal property to reimburse for unpaid rent. The law specifically states in part:


Any person to whom rent may be due, his or her executors, administrators, or assigns, shall have a lien for such rent upon personal property which has been used or kept on the rented premises by the tenant [...].

There would be an issue, of course, if the personal property was worth more than the rent. If it was worth less than the rent, however, then you'd be owed more. This could be another defense if the tenant sues you. You can argue (1) that you could not give notice and the personal property was abandoned. If that doesn't work, then you can argue (2) that the unpaid rent offsets the value of the personal property. Moreover, if the personal property was worth less than the unpaid rent, then you could countersue for the unpaid rent.
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