Disposing of abandoned property: A reprieve for landlords

By Caldwell and Kearns | July 18, 2012 | 5 min. read

For decades, landlords and property managers have been looking for guidance on how long and how carefully they have to store property that was left under (oftentimes) hostile conditions. On July 5 the governor signed an amendment to the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951, establishing time limits tenants have to remove their abandoned property.

This amendment requires tenants to remove their personal property from the residence when they have “relinquished possession.” If the tenants don’t take all of their property when they leave, can the landlord get rid of it? Not right away…

The 10-day rule

Regardless of why tenants leave, they have 10 days to communicate their intention to the landlord that they will retrieve their property. While the tenants are responsible for their own property, the act requires landlords to give notice to the tenants before that 10-day clock starts to tick. How does the 10-day rule work?

  • If the landlord has an order of possession from a magisterial district judge that informs the tenants they have 10 days to communicate to the landlord their intention to retrieve their personal property, then no additional notice need be given by the landlord.
  • If the order does NOT contain a notice to the tenants, then the landlord must serve the tenants with notice that they have 10 days to make arrangements to retrieve their personal property. The notice may be served by regular mail to the tenants’ new address, if known, otherwise to the vacated property; or by personal service.
  • If the tenants move out and the lease contains a notice that the tenants have 10 days to make arrangements to retrieve any property left behind, the landlord STILL has to give the tenants 10 days to make the necessary arrangements to get their ‘stuff.’
  • If the tenants move out and the lease does not contain a notice (as most existing leases will not), then the landlord must give the tenants the 10-day notice, which can be served at the tenants’ new address, if known, otherwise at the old address if no forwarding address was provided; by personal delivery; AND to any emergency contact identified in the lease.

The 10-day notice period begins from the date of the postmark on the notice.

The 30-day rule

If the tenants communicate their intention to collect their personal belongings, the landlord has to safeguard the tenants’ property for 30 days.  To the landlord’s benefit, the property may be stored at a place of the landlord’s choosing, provided it is reasonably close to the leased property, and the actual costs of moving and storing the property may be passed along to the tenants. Throughout the time that the landlord is holding the property, he must exercise ordinary care to safeguard the tenants’ property.

Notice requirements

The act does not proscribe the form of the notice. Reading the act as a whole, the notice should inform the tenants that if they do not make arrangements with the landlord to retrieve their personal property within 10 days of the postmarked date of the notice, their property will be disposed. The notice must also identify:

  • telephone number and address where the landlord can be contacted;
  • location where the property can be retrieved; and
  • the tenants will be responsible for costs of moving and storing their belongings if they are not retrieved within that 10 day window

Getting rid of the property

If the tenants do not contact the landlord within that 10 day notice period, or if despite communicating their intention to retrieve their property, they fail to do so within 30 days, then the property may be discarded. After the appropriate time period expires, the landlord has “no further responsibility to the former tenant” and may dispose of the property by whatever means the landlord chooses.

If the landlord chooses to sell the property, the landlord may only keep enough of the proceeds to cover any outstanding obligations the tenant may owe to the landlord. This may include the costs of moving and storing the property, as well as any judgment for damages against the tenants. If the landlord believes the tenants owe for damages or rent, but does NOT have a judgment, then the landlord should consult with counsel before keeping proceeds from the sale of the tenants’ personal property.

What should the landlord do with any excess proceeds? The excess proceeds should be forwarded by certified mail to the tenants’ new address. If the tenants did not provide a forwarding address to the landlord, then the landlord must hold the proceeds for an additional 30 days. Once that last 30 days has expired, the landlord may keep the proceeds.

It will take time for the practice to incorporate these changes. Landlords, property managers and their attorneys would be wise to provide magisterial district judges with the notice at the time the order of possession is sought so the tenants can be served with the notice when the order is issued. (It might be wise to have a copy of the act to share in the event you are asked for authority supporting your request.)

In the meantime, update your leases to include this new notice and implement the changes going forward. Act 129 takes effect on September 5, 2012.

Mr. Marsico and Mr. Woodburn are attorneys with Caldwell & Kearns which serves as general counsel to PAR. A portion of their practices are dedicated to providing advice and counsel to real estate licensees and representing and defending real estate salespersons and brokers in civil lawsuits and licensing claims across the Commonwealth. They routinely counsels employers on employee relations issues as two of the voices of the PAR Legal Hotline.

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