Selling a Tenant's Personal Property After Eviction

When an owner evicts a tenant from an apartment, by the end of the process the tenant typically owes the owner some substantial sum of money. While these evictions are usually in the context either of a nonpayment proceeding or a holdover proceeding prosecuted in the New York City Civil Court, such prosecutions do not necessarily result in an actual money judgment rendered in favor of the owner. Of course, often they do.

Most evictions involve apartments that are either empty or devoid of any objects of any significant value. Usually, what is left behind is essentially trash. While many years ago, it was common for evictions to entail carrying off the goods to some kind of warehouse, those evictions are increasingly rare. Nowadays, the norm has been to secure the premises for the owner, leaving the owner to determine what to do with the contents.

While there is a universal custom in New York to hold on to the goods for 30 days, there is no law on the books, no precedents for guidance, just this universal custom. Under this same custom, the owner can simply turn the new key in the new lock and allow the tenant to pick up the goods during the 30-day period or move the goods to storage, typically in the owner’s own basement, after which the owner can dispose of the goods as it wishes.

However, if the goods have value, the owner may well be better off having them sold off to satisfy some of the debt the tenant owed the landlord at the time of the eviction. Since there are fees involved in doing so—which can run into thousands of dollars, the property will have to be significantly valuable to make it pay to carry on this procedure.

The procedure for selling the tenant’s property is formal and precise. First, there must have been a money judgment. Lacking such, the owner must wait to sell the goods until 30 days have passed, with the tenant essentially having abandoned the goods.

If, however, there is a money judgment and both the judgment and the remaining goods are substantial enough to pay to employ the liquidation procedures, the next step is for the owner to prepare an “execution” to turn over to the marshal, typically the same marshal who performed the eviction.

With the execution in hand, the marshal has a notice of levy of the property and can prepare an inventory of the goods, retain an auctioneer, schedule an auction, and advertise it in a newspaper of general circulation.

None of this is cheap, particularly when you consider that the marshal also charges a fee. All of these costs come off the top of the proceeds realized on the sale and are the responsibility of the owner.

However, the net proceeds, limited only by the size of the money judgment (including interest, etc.), belong to the owner.

While the numbers of evictions that make such a procedure form a small percentage of the evictions that actually take place in the course of a year, for those cases where the numbers work, such a procedure is highly advised.