Mr. Green owned a rental apartment. His current tenant was moving out; a new tenant was slated to move in the following month.
“Please make sure to remove all your belongings when you leave,” Mr. Green instructed his tenant.
“I’m moving most of the stuff this week,” replied the tenant. “However, I have one bookcase of seforim that I can’t move now, and will move next week.”
A few weeks passed, but the bookcase and seforim remained in the apartment.
The new tenant moved his belongings in. “There’s a bookcase sitting in the apartment,” he told Mr. Green.
“I know,” Mr. Green apologized. “It’s from the previous tenant. He was supposed to remove it a few weeks ago.”
“I’d like to set up my own bookcases,” said the new tenant. “It’s in my way!”
Mr. Green tried contacting the prior tenant, but without success.
The new tenant lost patience. “If he doesn’t come take his bookcase soon,” he said, “I’m just going to cart it outside and let him get it from the street! I’ll donate the seforim to a yeshiva!”
“I’m not sure you can do that,” said Mr. Green. “If you leave the bookcase outside, it will get ruined by the rain and likely taken. And what right do you have to give his seforim away?”
“Then what do you suggest?” asked the tenant.
“I’ll continue to try contacting him,” replied Mr. Green. “If I can’t reach him, I’m not sure what to do.”
“Please try,” said the tenant. Meanwhile, he called Rabbi Dayan and asked:
“If Mr. Green doesn’t reach the previous tenant, can I leave his bookcase outside?”
“The Gemara (B.M. 101b) tells of a person who tricked a woman into allowing him to store wine in her property,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Because he acted deceitfully, the woman was vindicated in removing the wine at the owner’s expense and leaving it outside” (C.M. 319:1).
“Rambam extends this halacha to one who stored his items in another person’s property without permission. However, other Rishonim write that unless the owner acted deceitfully, the items cannot be removed to a place prone to loss” (Sma 319:1; Aruch HaShulchan 319:3; see also Pischei Teshuvah 319:1 citing Chavos Yair #165).
“In our case even more so, the bookcase was brought in with permission, but the rental lease expired. Rav Moshe Feinstein (C.M. 2:56) was asked about a similar case by a Rav who allowed an esrog seller to store thousands of esrog boxes in his basement for two months. Three years passed and the Rav needed the basement space, but he didn’t know the esrog seller’s address to contact him.
“Rav Moshe writes that the Rav is not considered a shomer aveidah on the boxes, since the owner should arrange to take them. Furthermore, although he was a guardian for the two months, he is no longer so, since he previously told the owner to take the boxes” (see C.M. 304:6 and Shach 306:2).
“Nonetheless, Rav Moshe rules that the Rav is not allowed to actively damage the boxes by putting them outside in a place prone to theft. He suggests that even according to the Rambam – and even in cases of deceit or without permission – if the owner is not local to collect his items from the street, they cannot be left there prone to loss without notifying him first of this. Pischei Choshen (Pikadon 1:, 7:) similarly writes that when items were stored with permission and left beyond the time, they cannot be removed to the street.
“Nevertheless, Rav Moshe allowed the Rav to sell some of the boxes to rent storage space and cover moving costs, as Shulchan Aruch writes.
“Alternatively,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “you can transfer responsibility of the item to beis din or sell it on behalf of the owner” (C.M. 292:15, 293:3).
Verdict: A tenant who did not vacate his furniture, should be notified to take it. Otherwise, it should not be disposed of but can be stored at the tenant’s expense.