Former Tenants Abandoned Property

One Person’s Trash Is Another Person’s Treasure: Dealing with Former Tenant’s Abandoned Property

Posted on April 4th, 2013
by Karley Biggs Sebia

Until recently, there was scant legal guidance on how landlords should dispose of former tenants’ abandoned personal property. This resulted in landlords being placed in the precarious position of either suffering expensive delays in releasing an apartment clogged with a former tenant’s personal property or facing significant potential liability for unilaterally disposing of this property.

Relief to landlords comes in the form of Act of July 5, 2012, No. 129, which amends the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 to include Section 501.1, Disposition of Abandoned Personal Property. This is long overdue legislation that dictates the steps a landlord must take to lawfully dispose of tenants’ abandoned personal property.

Under Section 501.1, a tenant must remove all personal property from the premises when he or she “relinquishes possession of the premises.” The statute defines the term “relinquishes possession” as (1) execution of an order of possession in favor of the landlord or where (2) tenant has physically vacated the premises, removed substantially all personal property and provided a forwarding address or written notice stating that the tenant has vacated the premises.

This Act provides much needed immunity for landlords who are left to deal with a former tenant’s abandoned property. However, to secure immunity, landlords must be extra vigilant to act in full compliance with the law.

Obligations Under Section 501a

The law provides that either the former tenant or the landlord may initiate contact regarding abandoned property. If a tenant leaves behind personal property and intends to come back and collect that property, the tenant must notify the landlord within 10 days of relinquishing possession of the lease premises.

Similarly, if a landlord seeks to dispose of abandoned property and has not first been contacted by the tenant, the tenant must be notified that the personal property has been left behind, and that he or she has 10 days from the date of postmark of the notice to notify the landlord of intent to retrieve it.

If the tenant contacts the landlord within 10 days, the landlord must then retain the property for thirty (30) days from the date of postmark of the notice. The property does not have to remain in the leased premises during that time period and may be held at a location of the landlord’s choosing, but the property must be held using “ordinary care” and at a location in close proximity to the leased premises. Ordinary care is not defined in the statute, but likely means that landlords are not required to expend special efforts to safeguard property beyond what a reasonable person would do under like circumstances.

If the tenant does not notify the landlord of intent to remove the abandoned property after the landlord gives the required notice, the landlord may dispose of the abandoned property by following the guidelines set forth in the statute.

Notice Requirements

The statute sets forth express notice requirements that must be complied with if a landlord intends to dispose of a former tenant’s abandoned property. The notice must be in writing and provided (1) by regular mail to the former tenant’s forwarding address, if provided, or to the leased premises is no forwarding address is provided; or (2) by hand delivery to the former tenant. Service to any emergency contact provided by the tenant may also be required under some circumstances.

A description of the abandoned property must be included in the notice along with information regarding the time limits and the rights of the tenant to remove the property. The notice must also contain the following: (1) contact information, including a telephone number and address where the landlord may be contacted, (2) an address where the property can be retrieved, and (3) advise to the former tenant that he or she is required to pay costs related to the removal or storage of property retrieved by the former tenant after ten days.

Disposal of the Property

Once the time period for the tenant to either contact the landlord or retrieve the property has expired, the landlord has no further responsibility to the former tenant with regard to the personal property and may dispose of it. Disposal may include selling the property, but the statute is clear that a landlord may not keep the proceeds beyond any outstanding obligations owed by the former tenant. Any additional proceeds must be forwarded to the tenant by certified mail. If no forwarding address is provided by the former tenant, the landlord must hold the proceeds for 30 days and, if unclaimed, only then may the landlord retain the proceeds.

Landlords must fully comply with the law to limit potential liability for the disposal of abandoned property and Section 501.1 must be followed whenever any personal property is left by a former tenant, keeping in mind that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure!

The attorneys at KingSpry in the Affordable Housing Department are available to assist clients with both disposing of abandoned property in accordance with the law and updating or creating policies regarding abandoned property.

This Municipal Minute is a publication of the KingSpry Municipal Law Practice Group. It is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.