3600 South Yosemite Street Suite 828, Denver, Colorado 80237
Denver Phone 303.766.8004 FAX Completed Eviction Forms To: 303.766.1181 or 303.766.1819
Colorado Springs Phone 719.550.8004 FAX Completed Eviction Forms To: 719.227.1181
HOW TO DEAL WITH AND AVOID SURPRISE GARAGE PROBLEMS
Property left in garages is problematic for countless reasons. Surprisingly, the variations of garage scenarios we see at the firm are endless. However, landlords most often encounter two specific garage scenarios. One, the landlord discovers that a former tenant has left property in a garage. Two, the landlord comes across a garage packed with property, but has no idea who owns the property. This month we will discuss how to avoid these problems and how to handle property left in a garage.
Eviction is not the proper remedy to address property left in a garage. An eviction is the proper remedy when somebody unlawfully holds possession of real property. For example, when a tenant fails to pay the rent, the tenant is unlawfully holding possession of your real property because the tenant’s lawful possession is contingent on paying the rent. By leaving or storing personal property in a garage, a person is not attempting to unlawfully hold possession of the garage, even a locked garage. This is why under Colorado law public self storage facilities do not have to file an eviction to recover possession of a storage locker when the rent goes unpaid.
Attempting to get rid of property left in a garage through an eviction is problematic due to address and service issues. Tenants are evicted from leased property with a specific address. The eviction statute requires an address. Garages don’t have an address, but rather go with a property that has an address. Sheriffs execute writs of restitution based on addresses. Sheriffs will not execute a writ of restitution without a proper address
continued on page 2
CAN BE A PROBLEM
Hoarders are not just people who appear in a reality TV show or in articles on the Internet. Hoarders exist everywhere and in every community including in multi-family rental communities. Apartment resident hoarding can cause significant health and safety problems, both in the resident’s unit and in neighboring units. Hoarding can create pest infestations, mold problems, increased fire risk, interfere with entrance or exit of the unit, or exceed maximum load-bearing floor capacity.
Hoarding is rarely self-reported by the resident. Instead, it is often discovered by maintenance staff making a repair in the resident’s unit or in a neighboring unit or by the residents in adjacent units. Hoarding can create a problem for surrounding units, such as water intrusion, mold, or a pest invasion in a neighboring unit.
Although some think of Hoarding as a matter of poor housekeeping, it is not that simple. In May of 2013, hoarding was listed as an official psychiatric disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual, Version 5 (“DSM-5”). Hoarding disorder is defined as:
Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with
objects, regardless of actual value;
The difficulty discarding is due to a perceived
need to save and distress associated with discarding;
The symptoms result in accumulation of possessions
that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromise their intended use.
Residents with hoarding disorder also frequently suffer from other psychiatric disorders as well.
There is no rhyme or reason of what a resident may hoard. Hoarded items may be valuable collectibles, or items that appear to persons without the hoarding continued on page 2
HOW TO DEAL WITH AND AVOID SURPRISE
GARAGE PROBLEMS continued from page 1
or if the Sheriff isn’t comfortable with the address. Thus, if you try to have personal property removed from a garage through the eviction process, you could get all the way to the end only to have the sheriff tell you that he won’t execute the writ of restitution. Finally, an eviction remedy is problematic because frequently you can’t serve the eviction. You either don’t know where the former resident is or you don’t even know who to serve because you don’t know whose property is in the garage.
For these reasons, we will not file an eviction where the only purpose is to get a court order so that the sheriff can set out the property in the garage. If you can’t file an eviction against a garage, how do you address the problem? Specifically, when you come across property in a garage, how do you proceed? How you proceed is determined by several factors. Do you know who owns the property? If you know who owns the property, are you able to deliver a written communication to them? If the owner is unknown, then the key consideration is the value of the property.
If you know whose property is in the garage, the next step is to try to find their lease. Just because you have a name, doesn’t mean you have a lease that goes with the name. The property may belong to a tenant that leased several owners or management companies ago. The property could also belong to a number of individuals that never leased, e.g. squatter, friend of former tenant, etc. If you can identify the owner and have a lease, the next step is to review the lease to determine your lease-based rights. If your lease contains strong language, then the risk of disposing of the property can be significantly reduced.
The following is an example of strong lease language. “If Tenant abandons or vacates the Premises for any reason and leaves personal property within the Premises, Tenant intentionally, specifically, and irrevocably abandons and waives all title and interest to such property and grants to Owner full authority to immediately dispose of the same without notice, court order, accountability, or liability. Tenant shall indemnify Owner, Owner’s employees and representatives against any claim or cost for any damages or expense with regard to the removal, disposal or storage of any property, including attorneys’ fees and costs, regardless of who makes a claim against Owner or any other person indemnified in connection with Owner’s removal of any property.” Note,
continued on page 3
RESIDENT HOARDING CAN BE A PROBLEM
continued from page 1
issues to be trash… or anything in between. Units can be literally packed, floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall, with just a small path for movement in the unit, although obviously not all hoarding situations are this severe.
Because hoarding is a recognized mental disability, dealing with a resident hoarder is covered under fair housing laws. It is important to remember that federal and state fair housing laws protect people with mental disabilities and require landlords to make reasonable accommodations for disabled residents, when such an accommodation is necessary to afford the disabled resident full and equal use and enjoyment of the rental property.
Fair housing compliance requires that before an eviction of a mentally disabled resident whose disability is causing the person to violate the terms of the lease/rules, good faith efforts must be made by the property management to accommodate the resident’s disability. This generally requires that the resident be given opportunities to come into compliance so that he or she can retain the tenancy.
When dealing with a hoarding situation, the focus should only be on solving legitimate health and safety issues rather than attempting to achieve ideal housekeeping habits. It should be recognized that even if the resident meets minimum health and safety standards, the unit may not meet your expectations of an “optimal condition.” It is also important to realize that residents with hoarding issues may not recognize they have the problem (or the severity of the problem) or be equipped to resolve the hoarding problem on their own.
Accommodation of a resident hoarder may not be required, and termination of the tenancy may be possible, if:
The person is a clear, direct and immediate threat to
the health and safety of other residents or the prop-
erty– and there is no accommodation that will
eliminate or sufficiently mitigate the health and
safety issues; or
The resident has caused serious monetary damage to
the unit and will not reimburse the landlord for the
cost to repair the unit; or
The resident will not engage in the accommodation
process or cooperate to bring the unit back into
Even if the resident hoarder is cooperative in coming into compliance it is important to know that
continued on page 3
HOW TO DEAL WITH AND AVOID SURPRISE
GARAGE PROBLEMS continued from page 2
“Premises” includes all leased space, including a garage.
Strong lease language is important because in Colorado personal property is not automatically abandoned when it is left behind. In other words, just because a tenant leaves property in a garage, it doesn’t mean the tenant abandoned the property. Rather, property found in a garage could be mislaid, lost, or abandoned. Property is mislaid if the owner intentionally places it in a certain place and later forgets about it. Lost property includes property the owner unintentionally parts with through either carelessness or neglect. Abandoned property is thrown away, or intentionally forsaken by its owner. Thus, in Colorado, a tenant must intend to abandon property, and strong lease language supports the conclusion that the tenant intended to abandon left behind property.
Regardless of lease language, a landlord should always send a written communication to the owner of found garage property if the landlord knows who the owner is and delivery of a written communication is possible (you either have a confirmed address or email). Your written communication should address several key issues. You should inform the owner that you found and are in possession of the property. You intend to dispose of the property within thirty-five days. The property is, has been, and will continue to be available for the owner to claim. You should inform the owner where and how the owner can claim the property. Finally, you should advise the owner if the owner fails to claim the property that you will conclude from the owner’s failure that the owner intends to abandon the property, and that you will promptly dispose the property.
If you cannot identify the owner of the property, the first thing a landlord should do is secure the property. For example, since the property is located in a garage and the garage is accessed either through a remote, a door, or both, the landlord should change the remote code and change the locks to the garage. We realize this goes against standard eviction advice, but remember this isn’t about possession. It is about ownership of the property. When you secure the property, you should also post a notice in a conspicuous place stating that you will deliver the property upon demand from its lawful owner. If the owner was using the garage as a storage locker, the owner may see the notice when they come to get some of the property or to check on it. You could then make access to the property
continued on page 4
RESIDENT HOARDING CAN BE A PROBLEM
continued from page 2
‘hoarding disorder’ has a high rate of recidivism. This means that a resident with hoarding issues may “slip” and re-hoard again the future. Therefore any written agreement made with the resident should include language that provides for periodic unit inspections after the health and safety issues have been remedied.
We advise that you seek legal advice and call THS before taking any action to terminate a tenancy if hoarding issues may be involved. If not handled appropriately, it could result in a Fair Housing complaint being filed against you personally, the property, and the company.
IMPORTANT THS OCTOBER DATES
October 9th ALL COURTS CLOSED
COLUMBUS DAY HOLIDAY
October 11th DOUGLAS CO. COURTS CLOSED
October 12th Blue Moon Lease Workshop THS Lower Conference Center
8:30 a.m.- Noon
3600 S. Yosemite Street
Denver, Colorado 80237
October 13th South Client Lunch
Dave & Busters
2000 S. Colorado Blvd, Denver 11:15 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. October 14th AAMD Chili Cook-Off Redi Carpet Warehouse 15100 E. 40th Ave Unit A Aurora, CO 80011
11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
HOW TO DEAL WITH AND AVOID SURPRISE
GARAGE PROBLEMS continued from page 3
contingent upon the owner immediately removing it. We also advise circulating a memo or notice community wide to all tenants regarding the discovered garage property.
If you secure and post, and the owner does not come forward and is still unknown, a landlord should then inventory the property to document its value. To avoid disputes, the inventorying of found garage property may need to be well documented and methodical. The necessary detail and documentation of an inventory is determined by the amount and quality of property. Sparse junk warrants little attention, but a full garage of potentially valuable antiques requires great attention. Former tenants or others may make all sorts of unfounded or unscrupulous allegations about property left in a garage at your community. These allegations can be intentional or folks may have just forgotten that they left Aunt Grace’s pearls somewhere else. Without a detailed and documented inventory, a landlord is vulnerable to these type of allegations. Inventories should involve multiple persons, detailed lists, and photos. In some cases, given the time involved, you may want to consider involving a reputable third party. When inventorying property, you should always keep in mind the sentimental value of property. How much are all of you family photos worth to you?
In cases where the owner is unknown and the landlord determines the property is not worth much, the landlord has two choices. One, the landlord may decide to simply dispose of the property. Two, in order to insulate itself from liability, the landlord could obtain a court order declaring the property has been abandoned. However, under these facts (little value and owner unknown), the best financial decision is to inventory to the extent necessary, and dispose of the property because the cost and trouble to obtain a court order would greatly exceed the value of the property.
If the owner is unknown but the property is valuable either in dollars or sentimentally, a landlord should consider insulating against liability by obtaining a court order. Specifically, the landlord can file a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the property has been abandoned, and seek permission from the court to dispose of the property. Who do you bring the lawsuit against (who are the defendants) if you don’t know who owns the property? The lawsuit is called an action In Rem (involving property), and the named defendants are “All Unknown Persons Who Claim Any Interest In The Subject Matter Of This Action”.
Similarly, since the owner is unknown, there is nobody to to serve the lawsuit on. Fortunately, the rules of procedure address this by allowing service by publication. Specifically, notice of the lawsuit including the property at issue is published for five consecutive weeks in a newspaper that circulates in the county where the lawsuit is filed. If nobody answers within the time allotted, the court should enter an order declaring the owner of the property has abandoned the property, that the landlord can dispose of the property, and granting the landlord other relief sought in the lawsuit. Keep in mind a declaratory judgment action is not an eviction, and thus is not quick or inexpensive.
Contrary to what you may think or have been told, you cannot solve the problem by evicting the garage alone. You can avoid the problem by making sure that you evict the garage when you evict the unit by including the garage in the address of the eviction notice. If you don’t know, or are unable to contact the owner, or the owner doesn’t claim the property, you must decide whether actions will be blessed (approved by a court) or non-blessed (you act on your own and take your chances). The value of the property determines whether you should spend the considerable time and money to obtain a court order. The best way to deal with unexpected garage property is to avoid it in the first place. You can avoid or significantly limit surprise garage property issues by regular garage audits. We recommend at least once a year. Garage audits should be incorporated into your due diligence protocol when you buy or take over management as well. Otherwise, you may be surprised down the road.