Trash day came early.
August 30, 2009 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Landlord threw out my things before my lease was up - do I have any recourse?

I had been living in an apartment since last September and decided not to renew my lease in favor of moving in with my boyfriend. The lease is set to end August 31, 2009.

I got a call last week from my landlord asking when I'd be out so that they could get the keys. I told them that I had planned for Wednesday, August 26th and I'd leave the keys when I left.

So Wednesday comes and I go and gather the rest of my things. My mom was to come up later that day and get my furniture that I would not be taking with me. In my gathering, I find a dead mouse and called the landlord to tell them. There was no answer but I left a message stating that I didn't have anything to clean the spot with but I'd be there until 4:30 or so and my mom was coming up after to get my furniture and that she had her own set of keys.

I left and left my keys and a note for the landlord saying thanks and here's my new address (for the security deposit).

I didn't hear back from them until about 5:30 when my mom was on my way to the apartment. They apologized and made no mention of me needing to clean the spot. We hung up. An hour later, my mom calls to tell me that she forgot the keys and she'd get the stuff out the next day if she could.

I figured it was no big deal since I had the apartment til Monday and didn't call back the landlord.

Flash to today, my mom wasn't able to get back there until today. She goes to get the furniture only to find that someone had already moved into the apartment and everything was gone. She spotted my bed in the dumpster, but the rain yesterday had ruined it, along with anything else that had been in there.

All told the things I lost didn't amount to much in value (a double bed, a small couch, a satellite chair, a desk/chair, vcr, dvd player, stereo, extra cellphone) but it was MY stuff, stuff that was going to be used, stuff that I paid for.

My mom called the landlord to tell them this and she explained that when she talked to me on Wednesday I said I was done (I did not say this) and that I had left my keys so they assumed I was done. My mom told her that my lease did not end until the end of the day Monday and she hoped they wouldn't be taking anything out of my security deposit. The landlord said that "the attorney handles that" and I would get a letter/check within 30 days.

My opinion is that I told her that my mom would be up to get the rest of my stuff, I told her my mom had a set of keys, AND regardless of when I said I'd be out, my lease doesn't end until Monday. I realize now I should have called back when I knew my mom wasn't going up Wednesday but I figured if they walked in and all my stuff was there they would at least call and ask what was up. (They were otherwise very cool landlords, always called me right back and always called to warn me if they'd be in.)

So now not only have a lost a good portion of my stuff, I'm afraid I'll be charged (via the security deposit) for not removing the last of my things.

So what I'm asking here is do I have any recourse? Can I get them to pay for what they made me lose? (The stuff had a value of probably only ~200$ which would hardly even replace the bed, but still..) Can they charge me via the security deposit? Do I need a lawyer? I don't have any money for one. I mean seriously bank account = 0.00$ but I have an uncle who lives in another state who probably would send a letter if I asked.

Thanks in advance, this all took place in Pittsburgh, PA for the record.
posted by thisisnotkatrina to Law & Government (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Pitt has a list of Tenant Concerns contacts. If you're a Pitt student currently, it looks like the University has a legal help line for students' housing rights issues (412-648-7970).

(Sorry if this is obvious--if you've already exhausted those, I don't have much to add other than sympathy.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:57 PM on August 30, 2009

Not a current student, unfortunately, but I'll check out the other numbers. Thus far all I've managed to do is cry and post this, hah.
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 1:59 PM on August 30, 2009

(From Mr. tristeza)

Same thing happened to me.

As long as you can prove that the landlord moved the stuff out before the lease was up, the landlord is guilty of theft/vandalism.

Not only does the landlord owe you all the money for the stuff - plus a couple days' back rent for violating the lease before it was up - they have potential criminal liability.

It's really that simple. Your security deposit doesn't enter into it. Your mom doesn't enter into it. They keys don't enter into it. Legally, it's the same as if they had gone into your place and thrown a bunch of stuff away in the middle of the month three months ago.

They have no valid reason to throw *any* of your property out for any reason whatsoever unless you specifically authorize it or it's some emergency like a fire.

Because landlords are 100% scumbag, they will claim that you told them to throw it all out, which is absurd. In case they do that, you go down to the police department and file a criminal complaint.
posted by tristeza at 2:04 PM on August 30, 2009 [7 favorites]

Did you pay to lease the space through the end of August? If they've already taken your money for the space for that time, I think you have a pretty strong legal argument. At the very least you should push for a credit for the portion of the month that they rented the apartment to another tenant, plus a credit for your furniture against any reasonable charges on the security deposit. Personally I think you should get this, plus the excess value of furniture if it isn't all recouped in this way.

If you had negotiated a reduced final month rent on the basis of your moving out early, then I think the story is different.

Seconding the suggestion to use any institutional support you may have (even if you are an alumni of a school there they might field a call and give you some advice). I'm not sure if the city has a renter's hotline that may help as well. In your shoes I'd write a letter sticking to the facts they need to know (that you had a legal lease on the space, they removed and caused destruction on your property and you expect to be appropriately compensated for the property and time period you did not use the space which they benefited from by renting to a new tenant). Obviously such a letter put together with professional assistance would be better, but if you can't afford it you are better off asking than just letting the issue drop.
posted by meinvt at 2:07 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anectodal but my landlord changed the locks on my apartment [in Seattle] after I had moved out and basically said I was gone, but was also planning to go back and clean the place on the last day of my lease. I was paid through the month. It was a long time ago btu I think they had maybe tossed out some stuff of mine in the fridge, no big deal. I pressed the issue with them -- hey if they were taking over the apartment three days before the end of my lease they owed me money -- and eventually won out. I wrote a very nice letter ot the apartment building owner, not the managers, explaining the situation and my understanding of the rental laws and I got back three days pro-rated rent.

So, if I were you, I'd check the laws, look into what meinvt says as far as what you've actually paid for and then move forward and press your case. They're not allowed to toss out your things (even if you're evicted in most cases) so this seems outside the rules, but don't take my word for it, check the laws in your jurisdiction and see for yourself, then reduce the case to the bare essentials as tristeza says and good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 2:24 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Small claims court was made for this kind of thing. Ask for enough money to replace everything they threw away, at the least.
posted by mikeand1 at 2:25 PM on August 30, 2009

Make that police report now, not if/when the landlord makes a counterclaim. You'll need that to boost your case, if you decide to make one.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 2:36 PM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh, and go take a picture of the dumpster with your things in it - today - with a digital camera. The data (date of the photograph) in the photo will also support your claim.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 2:38 PM on August 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

Treble damages can be a consequence of an unlawful eviction in many jurisdictions. Here is a link to Landlord-Tenant Law For Every State from Consumerist, Pennsylvania appears to be 404 at the moment.
posted by mlis at 3:06 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with TruncatedTiller: make a police report as soon as you possibly can--if you can get that report in before September 1 (when your lease actually ends), your case will be that much stronger, should the landlord decides to claim she didn't toss your stuff early. Even if you decide not to press charges, a report dating from 8:00AM, August 31st, will really help you out, evidence-wise.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:23 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Excellent advice in this thread. I'll only add one thing - check your lease agreement.

Because I know that my agreement says that relinquishing my keys is a sign that I have ended my tenancy/the lease agreement, or something along those lines.

Go ahead and investigate/pursue your options, but recognize that from your landlord's point of view, you relinquished the keys, told them in writing that you were moved out, and then inconsiderately left stuff in the apartment to be trashed. They will in all probability deny receiving any phone calls to the contrary.
posted by muddgirl at 4:03 PM on August 30, 2009

Because I know that my agreement says that relinquishing my keys is a sign that I have ended my tenancy/the lease agreement, or something along those lines.

Exactly. My lease had the same thing.

I left and left my keys and a note for the landlord saying thanks and here's my new address (for the security deposit).

This is the issue. Leaving your keys may have constituted giving up all rights to the place. It's possible you and your mother were actually trespassing if you went back after that.

You'd have to read your lease or talk to a lawyer to know for sure.
posted by Justinian at 6:25 PM on August 30, 2009

but I figured if they walked in and all my stuff was there they would at least call and ask what was up.

You would not believe the sheer volume of crap that tenants leave behind as a matter of course. It would dismay anyone who's worked their butt off to not pay a cent from their security deposit for a single ding, but depending on where you rent, your landlord may see well over 50% of tenants move out leaving the place a dump.

Also, what Justinian said. Your lease, or local landlord-tenant law, may specify what constitutes abandonment. Handing over the keys may be included, or (in tenant-friendly areas) excluded. You need to know what that is.
posted by dhartung at 10:04 PM on August 30, 2009

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