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Surplus City or Town Property

This page provides an overview of the process for cities and towns in Washington State to dispose of surplus real and personal property, including statutory requirements, tips, and examples of local policies and resolutions.

For an overview of county surplus requirements, see our page Surplus County Property. For special purpose districts, see our page Surplus Property for Special Purpose Districts.



Overview and General Authority

Cities and towns frequently need to sell or convey “surplus” equipment or property which is no longer needed for municipal purposes. The basic authority to dispose of real estate and personal property is set in the following statutes:

For simplicity’s sake, we will refer to all classifications of cities and towns as “cities” on this page.

There is a threshold question of what types of items need to be declared surplus. Items that are broken, obsolete, or of no monetary value would not necessarily need to be declared surplus before disposing of them, although some agencies do according to local policy. On the other hand, if there is any question of whether an item is usable or has value, it should be declared surplus.

In addition, it is a good idea to surplus anything that is part of an asset management system – even if it no longer has value – to document the fact that it is no longer in use. Real property should be declared surplus before being sold or conveyed and the same is true for timber and mineral rights.

There are specific statutory requirements for disposing of certain types of surplus property, while other types of property have little or no statutory requirements. Either way, MRSC recommends adopting written surplus policies and procedures to guide your city. Such policies and procedures can be adopted by ordinance or resolution as a stand-alone policy or incorporated into broader financial management policies.


General Surplus Procedures and Practice Tips

While there are some unique considerations for certain types of property as discussed later on this page, the general process we recommend for formally disposing of surplus property is similar:

Determine Which Property Is Surplus

This determination should be made by the appropriate staff and managers. Some local government agencies conduct periodic surveys or inventories to identify surplus property, while others identify surplus property on an as-needed basis.

Be specific about which items are no longer needed and, if applicable, from which funds or departments. Document any relevant identifying information, such as model numbers, serial numbers, vehicle identification numbers (VINs), asset management tags, or other information as appropriate (such as vehicle mileage, item location, or equipment condition).

Determine the Fair Market Value

Selling the property for less than its fair market value may be a violation of the “gift of public funds clause” in Article VIII, Sec. 7 of the Washington State Constitution, which states that “No county, city, town or other municipal corporation shall hereafter give any money, or property, or loan its money, or credit to or in aid of any individual, association, company or corporation, except for the necessary support of the poor and infirm…”

There are a number of ways to determine the property’s estimated market value, including (but not limited to) reviewing recent sales of similar items, Kelley Blue Book values, or county assessment records; contacting the manufacturer; or conducting a real estate market analysis or appraisal. Generally speaking, the more valuable the property, the more formal the appraisal or valuation should be.

The value estimate should not be provided by an individual or entity that has expressed interest in purchasing the property, which could result in the agency receiving less than fair market value.

Hold Public Hearing (If Required)

A public hearing may be required for certain property under state law or local policy; we discuss the statutory requirements for different property types below.

While RCW 39.33.020 requires the state or a political subdivision to hold a public hearing before disposing of surplus property with an estimated value of $50,000 or more, AGO 1997 No. 5 concludes that this statute only applies to intergovernmental property transfers made pursuant to chapter 39.33 RCW. Under that reasoning, this statute would not apply to any non-governmental sales, auctions, etc. However, public hearings may be required by other statutes or by local policy.

Adopt Surplus Resolution (Unless Authority is Delegated)

The city council should declare the property to be surplus (along with the identifying information mentioned earlier) and specify how the property is to be disposed of or delegate that task to a particular administrative official.

The resolution might also specify what to do with any items that are unable to be sold (such as declaring unsold items to have no value and authorizing them to be scrapped or donated to a particular organization). In some cases such as surplus real estate, the resolution might authorize further appraisal to confirm the property’s value.

A city has the option of delegating some of its surplus authority to an appropriate administrative official, such as the mayor, city manager, city administrator, clerk-treasurer, etc. or their designee. Such delegation is typically capped by the value of the property to be declared surplus. Any delegated authority should be adopted by policy, resolution, or ordinance, but the city council would not need to approve the disposal of any surplus items below the delegation threshold.

Proceed With Sale or Disposal

Proceed with the sale or disposal in the manner determined by the city council or appropriate administrative official, subject to any statutory limitations. In some cases further action may be required, such as the city council’s approval of a purchase and sale agreement. Any proceeds should be deposited in the appropriate fund for each item. Note that certain city staff or officials may be restricted from purchasing the property due to conflict of interest concerns as discussed later on this page.


Personal Property (Vehicles, Equipment, Etc.)

“Personal property” generally refers to anything other than real property (land and buildings). Common examples of surplus personal property include vehicles, computer equipment, tools, and office furniture.

In general, there are no statutory requirements for cities regarding the disposal of personal property. (AGO 1997 No. 5 concluded that the public hearing requirement in RCW 39.33.020 only applies to intergovernmental property transfers made pursuant to chapter 39.33 RCW.)

However, there are certain exceptions for intergovernmental property transfers, personal property originally acquired for public utility purposes, library reading materials, or seized/forfeited property, all discussed later on this page.

Items with commercial value can generally be sold by any number of methods, such as online or in-person auctions, sealed bids, “for sale” ads, fleet management services, direct sale to an individual, trade-in, or other methods.

Items with little or no monetary value – sometimes referred to de minimis items – can be disposed of as the city sees fit. Examples include obsolete or broken equipment or other items with little to no resale value. Such items can be sold, donated, sold for scrap, destroyed, recycled, or tossed in the garbage as appropriate. Cities should consult their local policies and procedures to determine whether the city council needs to approve the disposal of de minimis items or whether that task can be done by staff.

As mentioned earlier, it is a good idea to surplus any items that are part of an asset management system even if they have no remaining value.


Real Property (Land and Buildings)

Similar to personal property, there are few statutory requirements for cities regarding disposal of surplus real property. However, there are certain exceptions for intergovernmental property transfers and real property originally acquired for public utility purposes, as discussed later on this page. (AGO 1997 No. 5 concluded that the public hearing requirement in RCW 39.33.020 only applies to intergovernmental property transfers made pursuant to chapter 39.33 RCW.)

In addition, RCW 39.33.015 allows cities to transfer, lease, or dispose of surplus real property at low or no cost to a public, private, or nongovernmental body for affordable housing and related facilities. For more information and examples, see our page Affordable Housing Techniques and Incentives.

Depending on the situation and any adopted local policies, real estate sale methods can include methods such as requests for proposals (RFPs), sealed bids, auction, direct negotiations, real estate brokers/agents, or multiple listing services.

RCW 42.30.110(1)(c) allows the city council to discuss in executive session the minimum price at which it will sell or lease a particular parcel of real estate if public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of decreased price. This statute allows the city council to provide negotiation direction and flexibility to the person delegated to sell or lease the real property. However, the final action to sell or lease the property must be taken during a public meeting open session.

Similarly, RCW 42.56.260 exempts from public disclosure real estate appraisals or other documents prepared for the purpose of considering the minimum price of real estate to be offered for sale or lease if public knowledge would cause a likelihood of decreased price. However, these exemptions do not apply if disclosure is required by another statute, if the sale or lease has been completed, or if the sale or lease has been abandoned. No appraisal may be withheld for more than three years.


Property Originally Acquired for Public Utility Purposes

Before selling, leasing, or conveying surplus property originally acquired for public utility purposes, cities must follow the requirements of RCW 35.94.040, including a public hearing. This statute applies to:

  • All real property regardless of value, except for affordable housing property transfers under RCW 39.33.015.
  • All personal property with an estimated market value of more than $50,000. Personal property with an estimated value of $50,000 or less is exempt from these requirements and no hearing is required by state law, although local policies may still require a hearing.

Following the public hearing, the city council must adopt a resolution declaring that the property is surplus to the city’s needs and is not required for providing continued public utility service. The resolution must state the fair market value or the rent or consideration to be paid, and any other terms and conditions for the disposition that the city council deems to be in the public interest.


Intergovernmental Property Transfers

Chapter 39.33 RCW governs the intergovernmental disposition of property. In particular, RCW 39.33.010 allows any municipality or political subdivision to sell, transfer, exchange, lease, or otherwise dispose of real or personal property to other governmental entities – which includes any other municipality or political subdivision, any federally recognized Indian tribe, or the state or federal government – “on such terms and conditions as may be mutually agreed upon,” which permits the transfer of property for less than its fair market value.

The same statute also authorizes local jurisdictions to sell, transfer, exchange, lease, or otherwise dispose of personal property (but not weapons or real property) to a foreign entity.

However, RCW 43.09.210 requires that local governments receive the “true and full value” for all property transferred to another governmental entity. The state attorney general’s office has concluded that this statute can be harmonized with RCW 39.33.010 if the government agencies negotiate over the property’s value and that, depending on the nature of the property and circumstances of the transaction, “full value” can have a flexible meaning and could include non-monetary considerations (AGO 1997 No. 5).

If the estimated value of the property being transferred to another government entity is more than $50,000, the city must hold a properly noticed public hearing prior to disposing of the property (RCW 39.33.020). If the agency does not substantially comply with those statutory procedures, the property transfer may be declared invalid by a court if a suit is filed within one year.


Seized, Forfeited, or Unclaimed Property

State law allows law enforcement agencies and courts to seize certain real or personal property related to illegal activities. Once the forfeiture process is completed, the seizing agency is typically authorized to dispose of or sell the property, subject to certain restrictions.

These statutes contain detailed provisions regarding the seizure and forfeiture processes, property disposition, use of the proceeds, recordkeeping, and more, and local agencies will need to review them carefully.

In addition, state law provides a process for the sale or disposition of lost or unclaimed property if the owner cannot be located.

For example, see the following statutes (this is not an exhaustive list):


Library Reading Materials

RCW 39.33.070 requires any library – defined in RCW 27.12.010 as “a free public library supported in whole or in part with money derived from taxation” – to dispose of surplus or obsolete reading materials with an estimated value in excess of $1,000 by public auction.

If no reasonable bids are received, or if the reading materials have an estimated value of $1,000 or less, a library may directly negotiate the sale of the reading materials to a public or private entity.

If the reading materials are determined to have no value as reading materials or if no purchaser is found, the reading materials may be recycled or destroyed.

These methods for disposing of surplus or obsolete reading materials are in addition to any other method available to libraries for disposal of the property.


Donating Surplus Property

Generally, donating surplus property to a nonprofit organization or other entity is prohibited as a gift of public funds under the state constitution, unless specifically authorized by law (such as transferring real property for affordable housing or transferring property to another government entity for non-monetary considerations as discussed earlier).

However, if the recipient organization provides assistance to the “poor and infirm,” the donation could potentially be allowed under the constitutional exception for the “necessary support of the poor and infirm.” For more information on gifting of public funds generally, see our page Gift of Public Funds.

In addition, the property may likely be donated if the cost of selling or otherwise disposing of it would exceed the fair market value (in which case the agency is saving itself money by donating the property).

For local government policy examples, see:


Surplus Property Purchased with Grant Funds

Before disposing of surplus grant-funded property, the agency should consult the award documents and the granting agency to ensure that the sale or disposal is consistent with the granting agency’s requirements.

For information on disposing of property acquired or improved with federal grant funds, see 2 CFR 200 Subpart D, Post Federal Award Requirements – in (particular 2 CFR 200.313 (equipment), 2 CFR 200.311 (real property), and 2 CFR 200.314 (supplies).


Conflicts of Interest

When obtaining appraisals and valuation services, cities should make sure they are receiving independent and impartial opinions on value. Agencies should not obtain estimates or appraisals from individuals or entities who have expressed interest in purchasing the property, which could result in the agency receiving less than fair market value.

Agency officials who were involved in the decision to surplus the property (the city council) or responsible for administering the sale (the mayor, city manager, city administrator, clerk-treasurer, or other administrative staff) should not purchase the surplus property due to conflict of interest concerns. See RCW 42.23.030; Washington’s common-law conflict of interest doctrine may also apply.

This prohibition also applies to the spouse and dependent children of anyone prohibited from purchasing by RCW 42.23.030. For more information, see our page on Ethics and Conflicts of Interest.

Although a sale at public auction or by sealed bids would seem to avoid direct conflict of interest issues, our conservative guidance has been to treat auction sales the same as direct sales and prohibit those individuals from submitting bids.

However, other city employees who were not involved in the decision to declare the property surplus are generally allowed to purchase surplus property, unless a local code or policy provides otherwise.


Examples of Surplus Policies and Procedures

Below are selected examples of local surplus property policies and procedures.

Combined Provisions for Real and Personal Property

  • Asotin Municipal Code Ch. 4.33 – While this chapter is titled “Disposition of Real Property Surplus,” it also contains provisions for disposition of property other than real estate, including statutory exceptions and found items
  • Bellevue Municipal Code Ch. 4.32 – Addresses methods of sale for real and personal property as well as disposition of firearms, property originally acquired for public utility purposes, and intergovernmental transfers
  • Deer Park Resolution No. 2012-002 (2012) – Adopting city surplus assets policy; provisions are short and concise. Prohibits elected officials and city staff from acquiring surplus items.
  • Fife Municipal Code Ch. 1.28 – Includes sale methods for real and personal property and trade-in requirements

Real Property Only

  • Bainbridge Island Real Property Surplus and Sale Procedures (2020) – Detailed policy for selling surplus real property, including fair market value determination; whether sales are subject to SEPA review; different disposition methods such as sealed bid, auction, negotiated sale, and RFP; and annual review and inventory of all city real property.
  • Bellingham Municipal Code Ch. 4.84 – Includes real property appraisal and sale procedures, with real estate review committee to advise city council
  • Ellensburg Municipal Code Ch. 2.06 – Governs sale, disposition, and lease of surplus real property, including information to be provided in staff report, valuation and sale procedures, public utility real property, and intergovernmental transfers
  • Issaquah Ordinance No. 2985 (2022) – Adds municipal code chapter requiring public hearings before disposing of surplus real property with assessed value over $50,000; also adopts policy and procedures for determining that property is surplus, including minimum staff report contents and city council determination.
  • Renton Surplus Real Property Policy and Procedure (2004) – Includes separate procedures for enterprise fund and general fund departments/divisions
  • Shoreline Municipal Code Ch. 3.55 – Includes policies and procedures, public hearing and notice requirements, and authorized sale methods.
  • Tacoma Public Utilities Surplus Real Property Disposition Policy (2020) – Policy and flowchart for disposition of surplus real property, including for affordable housing purposes. Identifies three categories of properties with different disposition processes depending on economic value and potential use.

Personal Property Only

  • Ellensburg Municipal Code Ch. 2.07 – City manager may authorize department directors to declare property under $10,000 to be surplus with written certification; addresses methods of sale, property originally acquired for public utility purposes, firearms, and more
  • Langley Municipal Code Ch. 3.80 – Authorizes clerk-treasurer to dispose of lower-value property without reporting to council; includes guidelines for decision making as well as exemptions under city code or state law
  • Olympia:
  • Poulsbo Municipal Code Ch. 3.68 – Finance director must check with department heads and generate surplus list semi-annually for council review; includes decision making guidelines and methods of disposition
  • Shoreline Municipal Code Ch. 3.50 – Includes general requirements, specific procedures depending on item’s value, intergovernmental sales, sale of property originally acquired for utility purposes, and trade-in of surplus equipment
  • Vancouver Policy and Procedure for Surplus Personal Property Disposal (2009) – Includes items with commercial value, items with little/no value, vehicles, scrap metal, and police seizure items; establishes conflict of interest restrictions.

Examples of Surplus Resolutions

Below are selected examples of resolutions declaring certain items to be surplus and authorizing their sale or disposal.

Personal Property (Vehicles, Equipment, Etc.)

  • Benton City Resolution No. 2017-08 (2017) – Declares two vehicles to be surplus; authorizes staff to dispose of them by intergovernmental transfer, trade-in, sale through sealed bids, public/private sale, consignment, or Internet auction. If vehicles cannot be sold, authorizes city to sell for salvage or junk.
  • Forks Resolution No. 494 (2021) – Declares several vehicles formerly used for city purposes or seized per RCW 69.50.505 as surplus. Authorizes mayor and staff to sell them at auction or through fleet management services, whichever will generate the most profitable outcome.
  • Prosser Resolution No. 14-1470 (2014) – Declares a police dog being retired to be surplus property; authorizes sale to the dog's handler
  • Seattle Resolution No. 31676 (2016) – Requires all handguns that are no longer needed by the police department to be destroyed instead of being sold out-of-state, in effort to reduce gun violence
  • Shoreline Resolution No. 490 (2022) – Declares surface water utility street sweeper vehicle to be surplus, establishes estimated value range of $20,000-$40,000, and authorizes sale by live auction. All proceeds must be directed to surface water enterprise utility fund.
  • Toppenish Resolution No. 2017-18 (2017) – Simple resolution authorizing city manager to dispose of surplus police vehicles, fire coats, and phone system in accordance with state law for the best attainable value.
  • Walla Walla Resolution No. 2022-67 (2022) – Declares listed equipment to be surplus and authorizes city manager to sell or dispose of the items in such manner as deemed to be in city’s best interests. Items are listed by department along with serial numbers and asset tag numbers.
  • White Salmon Resolution No. 2019-02-481 (2019) – Declares listed equipment to be surplus and authorizes sale through bidding process or other commercially reasonable method. Includes quantity, value, and department for each item. Unsold items are declared to have no value and may be donated to designated local nonprofit or other appropriate recipient.

Scrap/De Minimis Value

  • Kalama Resolution No. 678 (2019) – Declaring certain broken, outdated, or damaged office equipment and furnishings to be surplus with no value beyond scrap; authorizes staff to dispose of property as scrap or garbage
  • North Bend Resolution No. 1893 (2019) – Declares all remaining personal property at current city hall, that is not being moved to new city hall, to be surplus with de minims value; authorizes disposal in "commercially reasonable manner" such as public auction, private negotiation, or destruction. All proceeds must be paid into general fund.
  • Snoqualmie Resolution No. 1477 (2019) – Declares one fire department badge and helmet with de minimis value to be surplus and authorizing staff to dispose of it by sale, award, or disposal that complies with state law
  • White Salmon Resolution No. 2014-10-395 (2014) – Declares older style police TASERs to be surplus with no value. Authorizes destruction of TASERs for credit against new TASERs; authorizes donation of TASER batteries and holsters to county sheriff's office which still uses them.
  • Woodway Resolution No. 19-411 (2019) – Declares several items that are no longer needed or functional to be surplus with de minimis value; authorizes clerk-treasurer to dispose of items in a reasonable fashion. If items have a cash value, directs staff to make an effort to sell them for market value.

Real Property

  • Everett Resolution No. 7526 (2020) – Authorizes four parcels to be listed for sale, including two originally acquired for utility purposes; public hearing was held per RCW 35.94.040. Purchase and sale agreements for each property must be submitted to city council for approval.
  • Lynden Resolution No. 942 (2016) – Declares city-owned residential property to be surplus following concurrence of public works committee; authorizes administration to dispose of property through acceptance of bids, direct sale with prospective purchaser(s), or a combination thereof.
  • Puyallup Resolution No. 2167 (2010) – Declares small strip of detention pond property to be surplus. Authorizes city manager to sell fee interest to adjacent property owner to move the property boundary and resolve a setback issue, provided the city obtains an easement allowing unrestricted use of the strip.
  • Shoreline Resolution No. 411 (2017) – Declares former police station to be surplus property; includes staff report. Initial resolution authorizes sale by sealed bid with minimum acceptable price; subsequent resolution (included) changes sale method to licensed real estate broker following change in municipal code.
  • Sultan Resolution No. 19-08 (2019) – Authorizing intergovernmental sale of surplus utility property to school district. Includes two resolutions: first declares utility real property to be surplus and sets date for public hearing; second authorizes intergovernmental sale at appraised value, with desire to sell property to local school district.

Real Property for Affordable Housing


Examples of Surplus Bid Forms/RFPs

Below are selected examples of sealed bid invitations or requests for proposals (RFPs) soliciting third parties to purchase surplus property; surplus property may also be disposed of through auctions, trade-ins, real estate professionals, and other methods as discussed earlier on this page.

Personal Property

Real Property

  • Bothell Surplus Real Property RFP (2011) – Request for proposals for private developer to develop six acres of surplus real property near downtown core; includes city’s goals for site. Proposals evaluated based on sale price, developer experience and financial ability to deliver a quality project, and overall approach.
  • Tacoma Surplus Real Property Request for Bids (2016) – Bid packet requesting sealed bids to purchase one parcel of real property with minimum bid price of $260,000. Includes bid form, instructions, bid submittal checklist, terms and conditions, and related documents

Last Modified: October 24, 2022