Throughout the years, Pennsylvania’s laws regarding abandoned property of a tenant have faced uncertainty. If property was left behind by a tenant, landlords were unsure of what their duties were with respect to that property, at what point the property would be considered abandoned by a tenant, and whether they were permitted to dispose of or sell property that was left behind.
That uncertainty has been resolved with the passage of Act 129 of 2012, the Abanonded Property Bill. Act 129 was signed by Governor Corbett on July 5, 2012, and went into effect September 2012. Act 129 deals with the disposition of personal property left behind after a tenant relinquishes possession of real property.
When Personal Property Becomes Abandoned
There are two ways where a tenant will have relinquished possession of real property: (1) an order of possession is entered by a magistrate court following a hearing, the entry of a judgment for possession, and the ten day appeal period has expired; or (2) the tenant physically vacates the property, removes substantially all personal property, and provides a forwarding address or written notice that he has vacated.
Landlord’s Duties Regarding Abandoned Property
The eviction process starts by filing a complaint for the recovery of possession of real property with a magistrate court. Once the complaint is filed and served on the tenant, a hearing will be scheduled. The District Justice will then award possession of the property to the landlord. The tenant has ten days to file an appeal. If an appeal is not taken, the landlord can request a Writ of Possession after the ten day appeal period has expired.
The Writ of Possession should soon be amended to advise a tenant of his right to make a request to the Landlord that he is coming back for his possessions within ten days. If the tenant informs the landlord within 10 days of an Order of Possession being entered that he intends to come back for any possessions left behind, the landlord must hold the property for a period of 30 days. The property can be held at the property or in storage.
If the Writ of Possession does not include that notice to the tenant, the landlord must provide the tenant with a written notice to the tenant about the remaining property and give the tenant ten days from the date of the postmark of the notice to communicate his intent. If there is no communication within ten days, the landlord can dispose of the property.
If the tenant retrieves the items within ten days, the landlord cannot charge the tenant for removal and storage. If the tenant retrieves the items after ten days, but within 30 days, the landlord can charge the tenant for the removal and storage of the items. The law does not specify whether a landlord can refuse to relinquish possession unless the costs are simultaneously paid by the tenant.
In the second scenario outlined above, if a tenant vacates the property and provides a forwarding address and a landlord sells the goods for more than the tenant owes the landlord, the excess proceeds of the sale are to be mailed to the tenant’s forwarding address via certified mail. If no forwarding address is provided, the landlord must hold the proceeds for thirty days, after which the landlord may keep the excess.
Leases should also be amended to inform tenants of their rights under Act 129. If you have questions regarding Act 129, feel free to contact me at (484) 362-9286.