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Rights of Tenants to Property Left Behind

The following is a transcript of " The Legal Lad's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Lawful Life, " a podcast from . The audio program is available via RSS feed here and at's podcast home page .

Hello, and welcome to Legal Lad's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Lawful Life.

But first, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.

Today I will answer a question that touches upon several legal topics including landlord/tenant, fixtures, legal rights to chattel and small claims court. Jade from Cambridge, Mass., wrote:

On my moving day Aug. 31 this year, I had to leave my dryer (one in good working condition) at the rental apartment I was moving out of. The truck I used for the move was too loaded to take the dryer along. I said to my roommate then that I will return to pick up the dryer a few days later. She agreed. Since September, she has ignored almost all my email and phone messages regarding my pick-up requests of the dryer. The one reply I received from her says that I should've picked up the dryer the day after the move. I have also emailed the landlord about it and he ignored my email as well. (My previous roommate and the landlord are good friends with each other.) I do not owe any rent or bills on the apartment. Is it legal for my previous roommate to not release my dryer just because I didn't move it out on moving day or the day after? What legal steps could I take to get my dryer back without having to spend more money than the value of the dryer?

Sorry you have had to go through this, Jade. This question touches upon several legal topics. A preliminary issue is fixtures. A fixture is personal property that is attached to land or a building and that is regarded as an irremovable part of the real property, such as a fireplace built into a home. Normally, if a tenant attaches a fixture to rental property, and it cannot be removed without damaging the property, then the tenant cannot take the fixture with him when he ends his tenancy. A dryer is not generally considered a fixture because it can be easily detached from the property and moved. So, the law of fixtures is not implicated, and the dryer is treated like any other piece of personal property.

The next issue is whether Jade abandoned her property in the rental unit when she left. Normally, any personal property left behind in a rental unit after a tenancy terminates becomes the property of the owner. However, if the tenant communicates an intent to return for the personal property, then the property has not been abandoned.

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