The Pennsylvania Legislature recently revisited the issue of how landlords must handle the disposition of a tenant’s personal property left on the premises after the tenant has vacated. The new law, known as Act 167, contains provisions that could help — or if ignored, could hurt — commercial and residential landlords. The Legislature’s last attempt to address this issue was Act 129, which became effective on Sept. 4, 2012; however, while Act 129 recognized certain situations where the premises could be deemed abandoned, it did not help landlords in situations where a tenant vacates without notice and without providing a forwarding address while leaving their personal property in the premises. The new law (to be codified as 68 P.S. 250.505.a) will supersede Act 129 when it takes effect on Dec. 22, 2014.
Act 167 provides five circumstances where personal property remaining on leased premises may be deemed abandoned:
- The tenant has vacated the premises following the termination of a written lease.
- An eviction order or order for possession has been issued in favor of the landlord, and the tenant has vacated the premises and removed substantially all of their personal property.
- An eviction order or order of possession in favor of the landlord has been executed.
- The tenant has vacated the premises and removed substantially all of their personal property and provided the landlord with written notice of a forwarding address.
- The tenant has vacated the premises without communicating an intent to return, and the rent is more than 15 days past due; in addition, subsequent to those events, the landlord has posted the notice of the tenant’s rights regarding the property (as described below).
If any one of the above situations occurs, the landlord can give written notice to the tenant that the tenant has 10 days to either retrieve their property or request the property be stored for an additional period not exceeding 30 days from the date of the notice. If the tenant requests the landlord store the tenant’s property, the landlord is obliged to do so for up to 30 days at a location of the landlord’s choosing, at the tenant’s cost. The landlord must exercise ordinary care in handling and securing the tenant’s property and must make the property reasonably available to the tenant for purposes of retrieval. The notice must be sent by first-class mail to the leased premises and to any forwarding address provided by the tenant, including any emergency address. The form of the notice should be substantially as follows:
“Personal property remaining at [address] is now considered to have been abandoned. Within 10 days of the postmark of this notice, you must retrieve any items you wish to keep or contact your landlord at [telephone number and address] to request that the property be retained or stored. If requested, storage will be provided for up to 30 days from the postmark date of this notice at a place of your landlord’s choosing, and you will be responsible for costs of storage.”
If one of the circumstances exists and the landlord has provided the written notice, and if there has been no timely reply by the tenant, the landlord may remove and dispose of the abandoned property. The landlord’s right to dispose of the property ceases, once the condition under which the personal property is deemed abandoned no longer exists
There are special requirements in Act 167 involving abandoned property in situations where the tenant has died, or where the landlord has knowledge that a protection from abuse order has been entered for the protection of a tenant or a member of the tenant’s immediate family.
Landlords must be careful to comply with Act 167. If there is a violation, the tenant will have the right to recover three times their actual damages, together with their legal fees and court costs.
Finally, it is important to know that Act 167 provides that in the event of a conflict between the Act and the terms of the written lease, the terms of the lease will govern. Thus landlords should review and update their leases; however, it is unclear how far a landlord can go to override the protections afforded to tenants under the new law.
The posting of information on this website, or the receipt of information by viewers of this website, is not intended to – and does not – create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not intended to provide legal advice, and visitors to this website should refrain from acting on information posted here without seeking specific legal advice from individually qualified counsel.