RULES FOR PENNSYLVANIA LANDLORDS WHEN DISPOSING OF TENANTS’ ABANDONED PERSONAL PROPERTY

Over the past few weeks several landlord clients called and asked the same question, “My tenant bolted and left some of his junk behind. Can I throw it out?” The answer to each landlord was slightly different but came from the same source – 68 P.S. § 250.505a – better known as Pennsylvania’s “Disposition of Abandoned Personal Property Act.” This Act became effective a little more than a year ago in December 2014 and actually is the second attempt by the Pennsylvania legislature to provide guidance to both commercial and residential landlords on how to properly get rid of property that has been left behind.

The Act starts off by identifying five distinct circumstances when personal property remaining on leased premises may be deemed abandoned.

(1) The tenant has vacated the unit following the termination of a written lease.

(2) An eviction order or order for possession in favor of the landlord has been entered and the tenant has vacated the unit and removed substantially all personal property.

(3) An eviction order or order for possession in favor of the landlord has been executed.

(4) The tenant has provided the landlord with written notice of a forwarding address and has vacated the unit and removed substantially all personal property.

(5) The tenant has vacated the unit without communicating an intent to return, the rent is more than fifteen days past due and, subsequent to those events, the landlord has posted notice of the tenant’s rights regarding the property.

If any of the five (5) situations described above applies, the property will be deemed abandoned. Before a landlord may remove or dispose of abandoned property, the landlord must provide written notice of the tenant’s rights regarding the property. The written notice will look very similar to this:

“Personal property remaining at [address] is now considered to have been abandoned. Within 10 days of the postmark date of this notice, you must retrieve any items you wish to keep or contact [name of landlord] at [telephone number and address] to request that the property be retained or stored. If you request that we store your abandoned property, we will do so for up to 30 days from the postmark date of this notice at a place of our choosing, and you will be responsible for costs of storage.”

Under the Act, the landlord is required to exercise ordinary care in handling and securing the tenant’s property. In addition, the Act requires that landlords provide tenants with reasonable access to retrieve their property.

These are the basic rules of the game. If a landlord violates these rules, the Act provides that the tenant is entitled to treble damages and attorneys’ fees. Additionally, to the extent there is an inconsistency between the Act and the terms of a written lease, the terms of the written lease control. With any law, there are always exceptions and this Act is no different. For example, there is a different notice period if a protection from abuse order is in effect. If the tenant has died the Act does not apply at all and disposition of the personal property owned by the decedent will be governed by the laws and jurisdiction of the Orphans’ Court.

The take away here if you are a landlord is really quite simple. If you don’t like any of the definitions of abandoned property or the manner in which you are required to store it and how costs will be allocated-change it. The Act gives you this right so modify your lease to set forth how you want to deal with this issue. If you have any questions regarding this or any other aspect affecting your real estate portfolio, please feel free to contact Doug Leavitt at Danziger Shapiro & Leavitt.

This entry is presented for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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