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Can Tampa Landlords Discard Personal Documents Left by Tenants?

A close up of a file cabinet. This image represents personal documents left by tenants.

It may sound surprising, but any landlord with enough experience will tell you that many tenants leave behind a shocking array of items after their lease ends. Whether it’s something without value, such as garbage, or something more significant like furniture, sometimes circumstances cause tenants to walk away without thinking twice. 

But what happens when the personal property left behind is important documents, like tax returns, birth certificates, or social security cards? Can a landlord throw these items away, or is there a legal process they must follow?

Discarding Personal Property

In Florida, there is a legal process all landlords must abide by regarding when tenants leave behind personal property after moving out. 

Step One: Notify the Tenant

The first step for the landlord is to adequately notify the tenant that they left their property on the premises. This notice must be sent as first-class mail to the tenant’s last known address. It needs to include a description of whatever items were left behind, excluding items considered trash, such as empty bottles, old newspapers, etc. 

If the landlord does not intend to keep the items stored on the same property, the notice must also give their location and how the tenant can claim them. The landlord may have the right to charge the tenant for storage fees. 

Step Two: Wait 10-15 Days

In Florida, a tenant has at least ten or possibly fifteen days to claim their property. The notice they receive must detail what will happen to the tenant’s property if they don’t claim it within the provided timeline. 

If the tenant does not claim property valued at over $500, the landlord can sell it publicly. If it has less than $500 in value, the landlord has the right to keep it or throw it away. 

Discarding Personal Documents

Florida State law categorizes what happens to unclaimed property based on value. That makes it difficult to determine what can happen to personal documents such as birth certificates or driver’s licenses. Even items like family photo albums or children’s past schoolwork are extremely valuable even though you can’t put a price tag on them. 

The best approach for items like those above would be to keep them for a reasonable amount of time. The tenant may never get in touch. In that case, the landlord should destroy the unclaimed documents properly. Do not just throw these records in the trash where anyone can find them.

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