25 January 2024

Where's the Stuff?

Eve Fisher avatar

by Eve Fisher and Leigh Lundin


My SleuthSayers compadre Leigh Lundin
sent me the following email the other day:

Leigh (avatar)
      Eve, I've long wondered what happens to possessions when prisoners are incarcerated. Without a family or girlfriend or close friend, they wouldn't be able to pay a mortgage.
    But what about personal goods, valuables and items with sentimental meaning. It wouldn't be fair for, say, a landlord to keep them (unjust enrichment), but what does… or doesn't happen?

Well, I thought about that for a while, and decided that the outcome would largely depend upon whether or not the apartment or house was a crime scene in an ongoing investigation. Leigh also comments on foreclosure and eviction situations.


Right now, the Gilgo Beach serial killer suspect is in jail, pending trial, no bail has been granted, and the police are combing that house from top to bottom for evidence. His personal goods, valuables, and items with (slight shudder appropriate here) 'sentimental meaning' are probably boxed up by now and in evidence rooms downtown.

The same is true of the 2022 Moscow, Idaho killings suspect, at least some of whose property – as well as his parents' – is in police hands. (BTW, I still disagree with demolishing the house where the victims lived before the trial – I know the police signed off on it, but still… Who knows what evidence still lurked there?)

And don't even think about keeping your laptop and cell phone if you've committed assault, manslaughter, or worse. The first thing law enforcement wants to see is your computer, email, texts, etc. And, as I've said many times before, do not put anything on any social media that can be used against you in a court of law.  


If you have money and are allowed to post bail, great, you don't have to worry about your property very much even if you are alone and no one cares. You go home, hire a good lawyer, and keep on keeping on. However, DO NOT try to saw the ankle monitor off, because you're gonna go right back to the slammer.

But say you're not allowed bail, or can't afford it, or get lost in the system? Or you get convicted and "catch a heavy case", i.e., go to prison for a long time?

Well, I'm not sure how long the landlord has to hold your apartment or your stuff until re-renting it and tossing the stuff out into the yard – or his pocket.

Leigh (avatar)
  TL/DR: Once a Writ of Possession (eviction) is executed, and a landlord comes into possession of personal property, landlord is required to hold and give ten business days notice before disposing of goods. Eviction of a non-military tenant typically take 30-60, even 90 days. Eviction rarely takes less time but a bad renter can take much longer.
    The clock for eviction is partially spelled out by statute and partially how long it takes to get the case before a judge. See, eviction becomes a lawsuit. If a renter resists eviction, in most cases a landlord/landlady is frozen from taking further action until a judge’s decision: no harassing visits, no shutting off utilities, no interference in residents’ lives. The minimum is about a month, but an unscrupulous tenant or a squatter can draw eviction out months or more while not paying rent.
    An exception centers around a 7-day Notice to Cure involving situations that put the property at risk: accidental or deliberate damage, housing unauthorized residents, allowing unauthorized pets, violating association rules, dealing drugs, prostitution, and so on. In that case, a landlord may not only move faster, but can be forced to do so.
    Except for pictures and photos, tenants may not remove items affixed to the property, i.e, drapes, blinds, etc. I don’t find the procedure for final disposition spelled out in statutes. By tradition and under the watchful eye of a deputy, landlords set tenant's possessions ‘on the curb’. Landlords are not allowed to help themselves nor allow others, but over time, goods tend to scatter until picked up by garbage collectors.
    I’ve seen curb disposals in nice neighborhoods where furniture and household goods disappeared with a day or two. Contrary to common expectations, when a poor tenant was evicted in a not-nice complex, the lady’s personal goods remained untouched for a week.
    The homeowner can pay off the certificate any time within the seven year period.

And I have no idea what the bank / mortgage company would do, other than foreclose, and have someone clean it all out. Who knows where it goes then?

Leigh (avatar)
  TL/DR: In a foreclosure, personal property rights transfer to the new owner.
    Foreclosure rules differ considerably in that a change of ownership is involved. The two main reasons I can think of are (1) failure to meet mortgage payments and (2) failure to pay taxes. Homeowner and condo associations have ways of forcing evictions, but other than suing homeowners into oblivion, I don’t know how they work.
    Obviously, if a homeowner doesn’t pay his mortgage, he risks losing his house. The note holder then can exercise his right to repossess the property. Unlike a tenancy, once a mortgagee take possession he can dispose of personal property as he wishes.
    Failure to pay taxes puts a property at risk but not immediate foreclosure. In Florida, an unpaid tax bill turns into a tax certificate, which the public may buy at auction. The certificate can not be redeemed within the next two years but must be cashed in before year seven, else it is forfeited. Between years 2 and 7, the holder can have the county clerk sell the property ‘on the courthouse steps’, a figurative term, no longer literal. The new owner taxes possession of any real and personal property left behind.
    I couldn’t find specific instructions, but it’s safer– and kinder– to attempt a ten day notice.

Worst Case Scenario:

Worst case scenario with family: Kalief Browder spent 1,000 days in Rykers Island because his family couldn't afford the $3,000 bail that was set, the criminal justice system was overcrowded, and between the judge(s) and his court-appointed attorney, his case was delayed for 3 years, without any trial at all. Eventually, it was dismissed. Tragically, two years later, he hanged himself. (Wikipedia)


If you really don't want law enforcement in your house, looking over your possessions and confiscating the same, don't shoot someone while wearing an ankle monitor. Luke Eagle Star, of Rapid City, SD, shot a woman in the arm about a week ago, and then ran. Police were able to track Mr. Eagle Star because he was still wearing his ankle monitor. They are currently working "to gather additional details," and I'll bet that apartment/house is going to get a real going over.  And considering that he MIGHT have shot his girlfriend, I'd say most of the contents are going to go out in the snow... (Rapid City)

Florida Statutes Ch 83§62, Ch 83§67, Ch 715§104, Ch 702§035-702§10


  1. Now there are some really good questions! I wonder if real estate agents are required to inform buyers that the house was owned by a convicted criminal? Ooo... I see possibilities for a novel there :) Melodie

    1. Don't know if it's still a practice, I have heard of a policy of informing potential buyers if violent death had occurred on the premises. Weirdly, part of the motivation for disclosure was to reveal potential ghosts in the house.

  2. Absolutely. Who knows what's hidden on them thar walls?

  3. I wonder if there are any organizations that are established that could help prisoners deal with those issues. We have so many groups that deal with all kinds of things, surely there must be someone to help them.

  4. Darlene, There are no national ones that I know of. Everything depends on one's local non-profits. I just looked up a couple of things, and while there are a number of programs, they're all designed for re-entry of an inmate, not for helping them preserve what they had before they went in. It's an interesting point, and one that should be covered. I'll talk to our local South Dakotans for Peace & Justice and see what they might be able to come up with.

  5. Just a sidenote: currently, an Aberdeen, SD Senator wants to cut the required notice of eviction for “at will” tenants in half, from one month to fifteen days.

    1. The practice in Florida links the time a resident has to vacate to the payment cycle. Tenants paying monthly, have a month to leave the premises. Those paying weekly have one week to vacate.

      By the way, Orange County, Florida has effectively banned AirBnB by forbidding short-term rentals. Only big, rich timeshare companies are allowed to rent by the day or week because… $$$.


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