This is a guest blog written by Steven T. Boell originally posted to flblaw.com, the law firm of Fitzpatrick, Lentz & Bubba.
The question is one often asked by residential landlords: “My tenant’s gone. What do I do with all the belongings he left behind?” The controlling law, the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951, did not address the issue and no court decision established a clear procedure. This left a residential landlord in a quandary. Dispose of the property and risk legal action from the tenant for loss of his possessions or store the property at landlord’s own cost for an undefined time and attempt to locate the tenant.
The Abandoned Property Bill (Act 129 of 2012) became law on August 31, 2012. The law amends the Landlord and Tenant Act and requires a tenant to remove personal property from the premises at the time the tenant gives up possession.
Once the premises is relinquished, the landlord must notify the tenant of his right to retrieve any personal property left behind. However, even this notice is not required if the landlord’s rights under the statute are specified in a “writ of possession” from a Magisterial District Judge; this provides significant benefit as a “writ of possession” is the legal vehicle through which eviction is achieved.
If the tenant communicates his intention to retrieve the personal property, the landlord must store the personal property for thirty (30) days to facilitate such retrieval. During this time, the tenant’s property may be relocated to a reasonable location to allow the premises to be reoccupied. If the tenant fails to give notice of his intention or, after notice, fails to retrieve the property within thirty (30) days, the landlord will have “no further responsibility to the former tenant” and may dispose of the property however the landlord chooses.
If the landlord decides to sell the personal property, the landlord can keep from the proceeds of the sale an amount sufficient to cover any sums that the tenant owes the landlord under the lease. The remainder of the proceeds must be sent (by certified mail) to the tenant’s new address. If a tenant fails to provide a new address, the landlord must hold the proceeds for an additional thirty (30) days. After thirty (30) days, the landlord can keep the balance of the proceeds of the sale.
This change to the law finally provides guidance to landlords (and their property managers) of their obligations in dealing with this common problem. To ensure you strictly comply with the law’s technical requirements, you may wish to consult an attorney for advice.
This article was published in the November/December 2012 edition of Lehigh Valley Marketplace.