Legislature Resolves Landlord’s Dilemma Regarding Abandoned Property

In the past, we often received calls from landlord clients about what to do with personal property that tenants have left on the leased premises.  In many cases, the landlord had already arranged for a new tenant and was not certain about his or her obligations regarding abandoned property.  Was the landlord obligated to retain possession of the property for any particular time on behalf of the tenant?  Was the landlord required to notify the tenant in some manner to remove the property within some period?

Effective September 4, 2012, the Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act was amended to clarify the landlord’s obligations regarding abandoned personal property of the tenant.

The tenant is required to remove all items of the tenant’s personal property from the premises at the time the tenant has “relinquished possession of the real property.”  Relinquishment of possession means either (1) execution of an order of possession in favor of the landlord, or (2) if the tenant is vacating the premises, removing substantially all personal property and providing a forwarding address or written notice stating that the tenant has vacated the premises.

Upon relinquishment of the premises and the acceptance of possession of the real property by the landlord, the tenant has ten days to contact the landlord regarding tenant’s intent to remove any personal property remaining on the premises. However, before the landlord disposes of the property, certain additional notice requirements must be met.

If the tenant relinquished possession of the premises following execution of an order of possession in favor of the landlord (i.e., the landlord obtained a judgment before the district justice or county court and caused a writ of possession to be issued on that judgment), and if the writ or order of possession contained notice of the tenant’s rights to remove its property as described above, the landlord is not required to give any additional notice to the tenant.  In such case, if no notice is received from the tenant within ten days, the landlord can dispose of the property.

In other cases of relinquishment of possession by the tenant, not involving orders of possession, the landlord must first give the tenant ten days’ notice to notify the landlord that the tenant will be retrieving the property, in which case the landlord must retain the property at a location of the landlord’s choosing for 30 days.  In the absence of such ten-day notice from the tenant, the landlord may dispose of the property at the end of the ten day period.  Any landlord notice will also state that the tenant shall be required to pay costs related to the removal or storage of property, although no storage charges are permitted for the initial ten-day notice period.  Following expiration of all notice periods described above, if the landlord sells the personal property and the proceeds exceed the amounts owed to the landlord, the excess shall be forwarded to tenant if a forwarding address has been provided.

While the new law does require the landlord to comply with a number of procedural steps, and is limited to situations where the tenant relinquishes possession of the premises as described above, it does provide landlords with a roadmap to avoiding potential liability for abandoned property.

— Stu Cohen

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