Landlord and Tenant Act Amended (Again) to Deal with Abandoned Personal Property – Act 167 of 2014
By David M. Tkacik, Esq.
The prior Abandoned Property Bill, Act 129 of 2012, went into effect on September 3, 2012, and dealt with two narrow situations where a tenant has “relinquished possession of the premises.” The prior law suffered from one major limitation – it did not apply when a tenant moves out, takes most everything with them, stops paying rent, and doesn’t return the landlord’s phone calls. The prior law only applied where (1) the landlord went to the magistrate and executed on an order for possession or (2) the tenant removed substantially all belongings, moved out, but informed the landlord of their forwarding address in writing.
The new law, Act 167 of 2014, amended Act 129 and became effective as of December 22, 2014. The new law states a more expansive definition of when personal property is considered to be abandoned:
(b) Personal property remaining on the premises may be deemed abandoned if any of the following apply:
(1) The tenant has vacated the unit following the termination of a written lease.
(2) An eviction order or order for possession in favor of the landlord has been entered and the tenant has vacated the unit and removed substantially all personal property.
(3) An eviction order or order for possession in favor of the landlord has been executed.
(4) The tenant has provided the landlord with written notice of a forwarding address and has vacated the unit and removed substantially all personal property.
(5) The tenant has vacated the unit without communicating an intent to return, the rent is more than fifteen days past due and, subsequent to those events, the landlord has posted notice of the tenant's rights regarding the property.
Prior to removing or disposing of abandoned personal property, however, the landlord must mail a written notice via first class mail to the leased address and to any forwarding address, including any address provided for emergency purposes. The notice must be in substantially the following form:
The tenant then has ten days from the date of the postmark to retrieve the personal property or request that the property be stored for an additional period not to exceed thirty days from the date of the postmark. Like the notice says, the tenant is responsible for associated storage costs. The personal property may also be stored in the premises.
Arguably the most notable part of this law is that it states that a written lease may now supersede this law, with exception of the section dealing with PFA orders. Accordingly, landlords and tenants are now free to negotiate their own contractual terms dealing with what happens to personal property left behind when a tenant abandons the premises. Also, it is important to note that the law also now provides for stringent penalties for non-compliance in the form of treble damage, reasonable attorneys fees, and court costs.
Residential landlords should consider amending their leases to allow for alternative procedures for abandoned personal property. If the leases are not amended, landlords should use the form language provided in this article to mail the 10-day notices. It is recommended that the 10-day notices be sent with a certificate of mailing (postal form 3817) so that the landlord may prove that it was mailed.
David M. Tkacik, Esq. is the managing attorney of Tkacik Law Office, a landlord and real estate broker. He can be reached at DTkacik@TkacikLawOffice.com or 412-414-9644.