Additional Protections Under Amended Landlord And Tenant Act
Written by: Alan Nochumson
Last month, I discussed how a trial court judge in Allegheny County in Brown v. Premier Properties, 2014 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 64 (March 6, 2014), highlighted the obligations of a landlord under the common law and under the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 to allow a tenant to retrieve her personal belongings after the tenant loses possession of the leased premises by way of eviction proceedings. What I failed to mention last month is that, beginning Dec. 22, that portion of the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 will treat abandoned personal property radically differently and will afford additional protections to a tenant when his or her landlord fails to adhere to these statutory mandates regarding the tenant’s personal belongings.
Under the old law, Act 129 of 2012, a rental property would have been deemed abandoned when there was execution of an order of possession or if the tenant had physically vacated from the rental property, removed substantially all of his or her personal belongings and gave a forwarding address or written notice to the landlord stating that he or she had vacated from the rental property.
What Act 129 did not deal with, however, are situations in which it is apparent the tenant had left the rental property for good, but some of the tenant’s personal belongings remained in the rental property.
On Sept. 26, 2013, state Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks, introduced HB 1714, which listed the situations in which a tenant’s personal belongings may be deemed abandoned as well as what steps the landlord must take before disposing of the tenant’s personal belongings.
An amended version of that bill eventually passed the state House and state Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett and is now known as Act 167 of 2014.
From the outset, under the new law, the landlord has no right to exercise control over the tenant’s personal belongings unless the personal belongings are deemed abandoned by the tenant.
Under the new law, the tenant’s personal belongings remaining on the leased premises are deemed abandoned by the tenant under the following circumstances: the tenant has vacated the leased premises after the termination of a written lease; an eviction order or order for possession in favor of the landlord and against the tenant has been entered and the tenant has vacated the leased premises and the tenant has removed substantially all of his or her personal belongings; an eviction order or order for possession in favor of the landlord and against the tenant has been executed; the tenant has provided the landlord with written notice of a forwarding address and has vacated the leased premises and the tenant has removed substantially all of his or her personal belongings; or the tenant has vacated the leased premises without communicating an intent to return, the rent is more than 15 days past due and, subsequent to those events, the landlord has posted notice of the tenant’s rights regarding his or her personal belongings.
Before removing or disposing of the tenant’s personal belongings, however, the landlord must still provide written notice of the tenant’s rights regarding his or her personal belongings. The tenant has 10 days from the postmark date of the landlord’s notice to retrieve the personal belongings or to request that the personal belongings be stored for no more than 30 days. The landlord would then have to retain or store the personal belongings for up to 30 days from the date of the notice. The tenant would be responsible for storage costs.
Notice by the landlord to the tenant under the new law must be sent via first-class mail to the tenant at the address of the leased premises, to any forwarding address provided by the tenant to the landlord, and any address provided by the tenant to the landlord for emergency purposes prior to or during the lease tenancy.
According to the new law, the notice must contain the following language: “Personal property remaining at (address) is now considered to have been abandoned. Within 10 days of the postmark date 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.”
Also included in the new law are protections for victims of domestic abuse. If the landlord has knowledge or is notified of a protection from abuse order from the tenant or tenant’s family, the landlord cannot dispose or take control of the tenant’s personal belongings for 30 days from the postmark date of the notice. Under those circumstances, the tenant may request that his or her personal belongings be stored by the landlord for up to 30 days.
The new law further protects a tenant by subjecting his or her landlord who improperly disposes of the tenant’s personal belongings to treble damages and the reimbursement of the legal fees and costs incurred by the tenant.
While the state legislature has streamlined the process of allowing a landlord to dispose of a tenant’s personal belongings that are abandoned and has actually defined when a tenant has deemed to have abandoned his or her personal belongings, the landlord also must be wary of running afoul of this statutorily created process, as the tenant may now collect treble damages in addition to the legal fees and costs the tenant incurs in connection with these statutory violations.
Reprinted with permission from the December 16, 2014 edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2014 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com.