By: Marshall Chriswell
One common question asked by both landlords and tenants is this: What can a landlord legally do with a property that a tenant leaves behind?
Until recently, there was not a good answer to this question. However, on September 5, 2012, that changed. That was the effective date of Act 129, which amends the Landlord-Tenant Act of 1951, setting forth new rules regarding the abandoned property of tenants. The Act attempts to provide bright-line rules when dealing with abandoned property and to strike a balance between the rights of both landlords and tenants.
The New Rules: Under the new law, tenants are required to remove their personal property upon relinquishing possession of their rental unit. For purposes of the new law, a tenant will be deemed to have relinquished possession upon the occurrence of one of the following:
- A lawful eviction by execution of an order of possession in favor of the landlord, or
- The tenant physically vacates the premises, removing substantially all personal property, and the tenant has provided a forwarding address or written notice that the tenant has vacated the premises.
Within 10 days of relinquishing possession, the tenant must contact the landlord and state whether or not he/she intends to retrieve their property. If the tenant does not contact the landlord within 10 days, the landlord may, at his/her discretion, dispose of the property. If the tenant does contact the landlord within 10 days and state an intention to retrieve the property, then the landlord is required to hold the property for 30 days, at a site of their choosing (within reasonable proximity to the rental unit).
Notice to Tenants Required: Landlords are required to notify tenants of their rights under this new law. If the landlords fail to provide notice, then the "10 day clock" will not start to tick. The type of notice required varies according to the circumstances of the case.
- If the tenant has been served a valid writ or order of possession from a Magisterial District Judge that contains language informing the tenant of the 10 day rule, then no further notice is required. The 10 day clock begins to run when the writ is served.
- If the writ or order possession does not contain the proper language, then the landlord must provide the tenant with written notice advising them that they have 10 days to state their intention to retrieve the property. This notice should be sent to tenant's forwarding address, otherwise to the vacant property or personally served upon the tenant. The ten day clock begins to run on the date the notice is postmarked.
- If the tenant vacates the property (as in #2 above) and there was a term or addendum to their lease agreement informing them of the ten day rule, then the landlord still must give written notice as described in the preceding paragraph.
- If the tenant vacates the property (as in #2 above) and there was no lease term or addendum informing them of the ten day rule, then the landlord must provide written notice as provided above, and additionally they must provide notice to any emergency contact listed in tenant's lease.
Removal & Storage Costs: If the tenant retrieves his/her property within the 10 day window, the landlord may not recover removal or storage costs from the tenant. If the tenant does not pick up the property within the 10 day window, then he/she becomes liable for costs of removal and storage. The landlord may recover these costs by selling the property after the 30 day storage period has expired, and the balance of the sale proceeds must be returned to the tenant via certified mail.
Conclusion: These rules are somewhat complex, but it appears the legislature has done a good job of balancing the rights of the parties. It is clear that landlords should have Act 129 provisions in their leases, and should have a pre-drafted Act 129 notice to send whenever a tenant vacates the property for any reason. Tenants should know that they are required to remove their belongings from the property upon vacating. If they do not, they must give notice within 10 days of an intent to retrieve the property, and in all events the property must be picked up within 30 days.