As attorneys representing landlords in eviction matters, we are often faced with the question of what a landlord should do with personal property abandoned by a tenant. What if the old looking piece of furniture left behind by a tenant is actually a valuable family heirloom? Landlords are routinely hesitant about how to properly dispose of items that remain at the end of a lease.
Earlier this summer Governor Corbett signed into law an amendment to the Landlord Tenant Act providing a statutory framework to address this problem.
The law, Disposition of Abandoned Personal Property, which took effect on September 3, 2012, places an affirmative duty on the tenant to remove personal property at the time the tenant “relinquishes possession” of the premises. While the point at which a tenant relinquishes possession of the real property may seem obvious, the new law provides instruction on when a tenant is deemed to have done so, which in turn triggers the procedures to allow proper disposal of abandoned personal property.
How the premises are relinquished by the tenant and possession regained by the landlord determines the manner in which the landlord must deal with the personal property. If the landlord recovers possession of the premises through the execution of an Order for Possession issued by the court there is one set of notice requirements. If, however, the tenant relinquishes the premises and recovery of possession of the premises is established through conduct of the tenant, another set of rules apply to the disposition of the personal property.
Subsection (b) of the new section provides a notice requirement that gives a tenant 10 days to retrieve personal property left behind. If after thirty days the personal property is not retrieved then the landlord has the right to dispose of it. However, the landlord has to be sure that these time limitations are communicated properly to the tenant.
If the premises are regained by the execution of an Order for Possession and the writ or Order itself contains the notice provision in subsection (b) then no further notice is required by the landlord and the personal property can be disposed of at the landlord’s discretion.
If, however, the premises are regained as a result of the tenant physically vacating the premises, removing substantially all his or her personal property and providing a forwarding address then the disposition of the property will depend on whether the lease contained the notice provisions of subsection (b) or not.
If the lease contained the notice provisions, then the landlord must provide written notice that the personal property left behind must be removed. The tenant shall be given 10 days to notify the landlord of their intent to either remove the property or not. In the notice the landlord must also provide a telephone number and address where the landlord can be reached and must identify the property left behind. The notice must be sent by regular mail to either the tenant’s forwarding address or to the premises if no forwarding address was provided or by personal delivery. The notice must also advise the tenant that they are required to pay storage costs for the property if it is retrieved after the 10 day time limit.
If the tenant notifies the landlord of their intent recover the personal property, the landlord must retain the property at a site of the landlord’s choosing for 30 days from the postmark date. If, however, the tenant fails to notify the landlord within 10 days then the property can disposed of by the landlord at his or her discretion.
In those instances where the lease does not contain the notice provision in subsection (b) then in addition to all the requirements above, the landlord must also send the notice to “any emergency contact” provided by the tenant in the lease.
This new section requires the landlord to use “ordinary care” with regard to the property and may only remove property to a location that is “within reasonable proximity” to the premises. After any time period has expired, if the landlord chooses to sell the property, any proceeds that “exceed any outstanding obligations owed to the landlord” must be forwarded to the tenant by certified mail. If no forwarding address is provided then the landlord can hold the proceeds for 30 days and if unclaimed retain the proceeds.
In light of this new law, landlords should consider including an amendment to any existing lease or including in new leases a provision that complies with the subsection (b) requirements. Landlords should continue to exercise caution in handling and disposing of abandoned personal property to ensure that they do not face legal claims from former tenants.
The attorneys at Benner and Wild have extensive experience in drafting residential lease agreements and litigating, on behalf of landlords and tenants, lease disputes. Please contact one of our attorneys in Doylestown PA to assist you in making sure your lease agreement is up to date with this new law.