Personal property left behind by deceased owner after foreclosure

I purchased a home located in Folsom, California at foreclosure auction conducted in Sacramento, California on May 26, 2022. I recorded the Trustee’s Deed Upon Sale on June 8, 2022. The property appeared to be unoccupied so I entered the house through an unlocked bedroom door in the backyard. The house had some furniture in it and some personal items but it didn’t really seem like anyone had been there recently. The refrigerator was empty and the toilets were dry. There was a sink full of dishes and piles of clothes around the house. In the garage was a 2013 Toyota Corolla S. The vehicle appeared to be in good condition and covered in dust. The tags expired Sep 2020. After making a quick assessment of the property condition I put a new lock on the rear door and left the property undisturbed until I could confirm that it was unoccupied. I checked with the Home owners association administration office and they confirmed that the owner had died and that he was allegedly estranged from his family. The HOA had not been contacted by the family. The HOA did have a lien on the property as well but it was covered by the excess proceeds of the sale. I also talked to the neighbor across the street and they confirmed that they called for a welfare check of the owner and the police found him deceased. The neighbor said that the owner’s family showed up few days later and stayed approximately 2 days. They didn’t discuss any details with the neighbors and they left never to be seen again. I asked approximately when the owner died. The neighbor said he thought it was late May or early June of 2020. The rear neighbor also confirmed that the owner had died and he had told her that he was estranged from his family. I obtained a copy of his death certificate from the county to confirm that the date of his death was May 21, 2020. I proceeded to clear the house of the furnishings and personal property on June 11, 2022. I stored the items in the garage just in case the family were to contact me regarding the items. I painted the interior of the house and installed new flooring and made some plumbing repairs. My intention was to resell it to my son. I also filed a DMV storage lien against the car on June 16, 2022 hoping to obtain title to it. I was basically at the house every day for 6 weeks while I was working on the house. I thought I was in the clear and could make arrangements to auction the remaining personal property. On July 27, 2022, I received a phone call from an attorney and she said she represented the family of the former owner and they wanted the furniture and the car. They claimed that they were unable to contact me. (I don’t think that is a truthful statement because the bank that conducted the trustee would have had all my contact information) I asked her who her clients were and she said the children of the deceased. I asked where they lived and she said South Carolina. I didn’t commit to anything or volunteer any information. I told her to have them contact me directly and she said she would pass along the message. I waited a day and they did not contact me so I tried contacting them directly with information I obtained from the internet. I called them and left voicemails and texted them and sent emails. I did finally make contact with Sister through text message and she told me not to contact her because her brother was the trustee of the will. I asked her to confirm that I had his current phone number and she said I did. She also said she called him and he said he would give me a call. I called him at his place of work and his assistant told me that he as too busy right now but he would call me later. A couple of days passed and I still had not heard from him so on August 29, 2022 I sent him and his attorney an 18 day notice by certified mail return receipt requested. I sent his letter to his work address because I didn’t think anyone would be at home to sign for his letter. He has until August 18, 2022 at 5:00 PM to reclaim his personal property and the car or the personal property will be sold at public auction and the car will be towed away by the Folsom police department. I called the DMV to check the status of my lien and they said they were just now processing liens submitted February 28, 2022. The odds of them getting to my lien any time in the near future were slim. The attorney received her letter on August 1, 2022. The post office was unable to gain access to the clients address on August 5, but would attempt a later delivery. I also sent the notice by email and text. I call, text and email daily and he has not responded or acknowledged any of my attempts to establish contact.

Now that you have all the background information these are my legal questions.

Do I have an implied landlord tenant relationship with the family of the deceased?

Does civil code section 1988 even apply to this situation?

Do I have to conduct a public auction to dispose of ALL of the personal property? Some items such as personal electronics may be considered unsellable.

Can you refer me to an auctioneer experienced with these types of auctions? The auction has to be certified by the auctioneer and the excess proceeds deposited with the county treasurer or can the auctioneer send them directly to the family? I have talked with one auctioneer that said she takes 80% of the sale plus expenses which would leave the family with nothing and I would have to do the inventory and photograph everything. She also said there is no such thing as a certified auction.

The property was titled in a revocable family trust. Is it possible the owner revoked his trust before his death therefore the family has no interest or right to anything?

The property was sold at a foreclosure auction as-is, where-is. The property owner was deceased. The family of the deceased has had 2 years and 3 months to reclaim their property. It appears that they have done nothing to retrieve it. It seems the trustee of the deceased is not fulfilling his obligations to the trust. He allowed the property to go into foreclose. He did not settle the unpaid bills of the deceased. He should have delegated it to someone else. He refuses to take my calls or acknowledge my text messages and emails. If I follow through with the auction and the towing of the vehicle what are the chances they will file a lawsuit?

I have not demanded any storage fees to date. I do not know what would be a fair and reasonable fee?

The storage lien on the vehicle was going to be the maximum allowed by the DMV $1250 plus $100 administrative fee but DMV has not approved my lien. The city will tow it away for free. What would it take to file a lawsuit for the car? What would it take to get a bonded title? Is there anyway around the DMV lien process?

I did finally consult an attorney and they proved to be no help at all. Couldn’t give me anything in writing saying that I own it all. They did say that I don’t have a landlord/tenant relationship with them therefore civil code 1988 wouldn’t apply.

Information I have compiled

My Trustee Deed

Letters I have sent to deceased owners son and attorney

Mailing receipts

Phone number, address, email of previous owners son and daughter.

Previous owners death certificate.

Thank you for your assistance,


Hi Tom, I definitely understand how frustrating this can be, have been there many times myself. I’m not an attorney and have not researched recent changes to the laws. That said, based on my past research and due to my desire to minimize risk, I typically did the following if the items were clearly worth > $700.

  1. Sent the required notices in civil code 1980-1991.
  2. If they didn’t respond immediately, I paid a company to move the items to a storage unit and to handle the auction. I found one by calling around to local moving and storage companies. They are already in the business of auctioning off abandoned storage units, so if you can find one willing to take it on, that’s your best bet. The moving and storage costs can be deduced from the proceeds of the auction - but I lost money every time. Just a cost of doing this business. At least by getting it out I was able to move on with my project.

I’m not sure your attorney is right on civil code 1980-1991. While a trustee sale buyer doesn’t fit the definition of a landlord in the code, I’ve always followed that in an abundance of caution.

Keep in mind that you can dispose of the property if it is worth less than $700. A lot of personal belongings and old furniture often won’t get that much at one of these auctions. So I’d only do the above if it was clear the proceeds would be well above that number - usually because of one or more items of obvious value. Otherwise, I’d just take pictures and take it all to the dump.

I never had a car left behind, so can’t help on that one. Perhaps a used car dealer or tow company would be willing to take care of it for you?

Thanks for the response