Can a Landlord Take a Tenant's Property?
Authored By: Colorado Legal Services
Questions and Answers about whether a Landlord can Take a Tenant's Property
What is a lien?
A lien is a right given to a person to take or hold another person's property until some debt or duty is paid or satisfied.
Can a landlord take a tenant's property?
If the tenant owes a debt to the landlord, Colorado law grants the landlord a lien on the tenant's property. Under these circumstances, the landlord is authorized to seize certain property of the tenants' on or in the rental property.
Can a landlord take all of the tenant's property?
No. The landlord can only take a lien for the value of the amount of unpaid rent, board, or lodging, and for reasonable costs incurred in enforcing the lien (e.g. moving, storage, etc), but not including attorney fees.
In addition, the lien shall be only upon household furniture, goods, appliances, (e.g., TV, stereo, VCR, etc.) and other personal property of the tenant and his household members.
The lien shall not be upon small kitchen appliances, cooking utensils, beds, bedding, necessary clothes, personal or business records and documents, and personal effects (e.g. soap, photos, make-up, etc.) of the tenant and his household members. These items are referred to as exempt items not subject to the landlord's lien.
When and how can a landlord take a tenant's property?
If the tenant has not moved out, the landlord or his agent (e.g., the manager) may enter the premises at any reasonable time to assert the lien. Once the landlord enters the premises, the landlord may assert the lien in a reasonable and peaceable manner. The landlord can take possession of property subject to the lien with a value of the amount owed. The value of the property is its value as used property, not its original cost.
It is unlawful for the landlord to assert the lien in a manner which substantially interferes with the tenant's right to reasonably occupy and enjoy the premises. If the landlord does substantially interfere, the lien is forfeited and the tenant can sue the landlord for damages. That is why the landlord usually waits for the tenant to leave the premises before asserting the lien.
In addition, a landlord's lien will be forfeited if the landlord takes control over exempt items in addition to property which may be seized in accordance with the law.
Unless the property is considered abandoned property, the landlord must file a case with the Court seeking foreclosure of the landlord’s lien. The case must be filed within 60 days after the rent and other charges became due and payable, or the lien terminates and the landlord must return all of the property to the tenant. However, if the tenant has not contacted the landlord within 30 days after the property was seized, and if the landlord believes the property has been abandoned, the landlord may give the tenant a 15 day notice of his intention to sell or dispose of the property. If the tenant does not reclaim the property within that time, the landlord may sell or dispose of it.
What if the tenant has already moved out?
The landlord can still assert the lien, but he must also allow the tenant and his household members back onto the premises at any reasonable time and in a reasonable manner to remove any property not covered by the lien. The landlord is required either to file a case to foreclose the lien within 60 days after the tenant has vacated the property, or to treat the property as abandoned property and give 15 days’ notice of the landlord’s intention to sell or dispose of it.
How can the tenant get his property returned?
The tenant must pay the debt owed or satisfy any duty owed to the landlord, including any reasonable costs incurred by the landlord in enforcing the lien (e.g. moving, storage, etc.) not including attorney fees. Once the debt or duty is paid or satisfied, the lien is taken back and the tenant's property should be returned.
If the Landlord has seized property much more valuable than the amount owed or if the landlord refuses to return the property in spite of payment of the debt, the tenant can bring a Replevin action. Alternatively, the tenant may sue the landlord for damages, but not less than $100, plus attorney fees.
This communication is made available by Colorado Legal Services, Inc., (CLS), as a public service and is issued to inform not to advise. No person should attempt to interpret or apply any law without the assistance of an attorney. The opinions expressed in this communication are those of the authors and not those of CLS or its funding sources.
If you need advice on this or any other legal problem, consult an attorney of your own choosing. If you cannot afford an attorney, talk to Colorado Legal Services, 303.837.1313. If you think you may qualify for Colorado Legal Services, go to applyonlinecls.org to complete your application online.