May 06, 2013

New Law Requires Landlords to Retain Personal Property of Previous Tenants

Act 129 of 2012 (the “Act”) amends the Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act to clarify a landlord’s obligations when a tenant leaves personal property behind after the tenant has “relinquished possession” of the premises. Under existing law, a landlord’s responsibility in such circumstances was ill-defined and left to the courts. Under the Act, although a tenant does have the responsibility to remove personal property from a vacated space, a landlord cannot simply dispose of items left behind.

A tenant is deemed to have relinquished possession of premises for purposes of the Act if (1) an order of possession has been executed in favor of the landlord or (2) the tenant has physically vacated the premises and has removed substantially all personal property and provided a forwarding address or given written notice stating she has vacated.

After the landlord accepts possession of the premises, the tenant has ten (10) days to contact the landlord and indicate that she has the intent to remove any remaining personal property. On the landlord side, unless possession was achieved through a writ or order providing notice of the tenant’s rights and responsibilities under the Act, the landlord is required to provide written notice to the tenant that personal property remains on the premises and must be retrieved within thirty (30) days. The tenant then has ten (10) days from the notice postmark date to notify the landlord that she will be retrieving the property.

The notice should inform the tenant: (1) that personal property has been left on the premises and must be retrieved; (2) that the tenant has ten (10) days from the postmark date to inform the landlord that the property will be retrieved, or the property will be disposed of; (3) a telephone number and address where the landlord can be reached; (4) the location where such property can be retrieved; (5) that, if the tenant has indicated intent to retrieve, property must be retrieved within thirty (30) days of postmark date; and (6) that the tenant will be required to pay costs related to the removal or storage of property retrieved by the tenant after the ten (10) day period.

The notice is to be sent by regular mail to the tenant’s forwarding address, if provided, and otherwise to the formerly leased premises or by direct personal delivery to the tenant. If the tenant indicates that she intends to retrieve the property, either before receiving a written notice or within ten (10) days of receiving the notice from the landlord, the landlord must retain the personal property for thirty (30) days. The landlord can retain the property off-site (within reasonable proximity to the leased premises), but must exercise ordinary care in handling and storing a tenant’s belongings.

If a tenant fails to retrieve their personal belongings during the thirty (30) day retention period, or if the tenant fails to respond within the ten (day) period following receipt of the notice, the landlord is released of any responsibility to retain the tenant’s personal property and can dispose of the property at the landlord’s discretion. If the property is sold and the proceeds of such sale exceed the outstanding obligations owed the landlord, the proceeds are to be forwarded to the tenant by certified mail. If no forwarding address was provided, the landlord is to hold the proceeds for thirty (30) days, and, if unclaimed, may retain the proceeds.

A tenant is responsible to pay any reasonable and actual costs related to removal or storage of any personal property, but only if the tenant retrieves the property after the ten (10) day period and before thirty (30) days is up.

In order to comply with the Act’s new requirements, landlords should amend their standard lease forms to include notice of the rights and responsibilities placed upon the landlord and tenant under the Act. Further, landlords should conduct timely inspections of any premises abandoned by a tenant, in order to determine if a notice is required regarding any remaining personal property. Landlords should be cautious, as the Act contains no exception for personal property of negligible or inestimable value. Notices should be issued to former tenants promptly, and landlords should keep detailed records of costs incurred in the process of handling any abandoned personal property of former tenants.

The Landlord Tenant Act applies to commercial and residential leases. Landlords are advised to consult with an attorney regarding compliance under the new obligations imposed by Act 129.

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