Business workshop: What's left behind?

How to sort through a tenant's personal property after eviction, abandonment

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Residential and commercial landlords have often faced a difficult question: what to do with personal property that an evicted tenant or one abandoning the premises leaves behind.

In the past, many landlords have immediately disposed of personal property, taking the risk that the tenant might return and assert a damage claim for lost property. Other landlords have placed personal property into storage at their own cost for indefinite periods of time to protect themselves against damage claims.

A recent amendment to the Pennsylvania Landlord & Tenant Act eliminates these ambiguities and requires tenants to remove all their personal property at the time they relinquish possession, which the amendment defines as either the date that the tenant is evicted or the date the tenant voluntarily vacates the premises, removes most personal property and gives the landlord a forwarding address or written notice that he or she has vacated.

The landlord's obligations to the tenant vary. If evicted, a tenant must advise a landlord within 10 days of the intention to recover personal property left behind, and the landlord is required to store the property for 30 days.

If abandoning, the landlord must provide the tenants with written notice that they have abandoned personal property, after which the tenant has 10 days to recover the property. The amendment describes these obligations in greater detail.

While the new law does create some additional obligations for landlords, it eliminates the ambiguities that they had previously faced in dealing with a tenant's abandoned personal property.

To fully enjoy the rights provided to them and to minimize their obligations at the time of eviction or abandonment, landlords should strongly consider revising their leases to include a provision advising tenants of their rights and obligations related to personal property.

-- Frank Kosir, Jr.,
Meyer, Unkovic & Scott,
fk@muslaw.com

Business workshop is a weekly feature from local experts offering tidbits on matters affecting business. To contribute, contact Business Editor Brian Hyslop at bhyslop@post-gazette.com.


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