Pennsylvania Act No. 129 of 2012 (effective September 4, 2012), amended the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 to provide for the disposition of personal property deemed abandoned by a tenant. The Pennsylvania legislature has returned to this subject with Pennsylvania Act No. 167 of 2014 (effective December 21, 2014). Under the prior law, there were two relatively limited circumstances under which a tenant’s personal property remaining in a rental premises was deemed to be abandoned:
- upon execution of an order of possession in favor of the landlord, or
- the tenant physically vacating the premises and providing a forwarding address or written notice stating that the tenant has vacated the premises.
Unfortunately the law did not cover the circumstance where the tenant simply abandons the premises without notice. The new law adds three additional circumstances under which a tenant may be deemed to have abandoned personal property:
- the tenant has vacated the premises following the termination of a written lease;
- an eviction order or order for possession has been entered and the tenant has vacated the premises and removed substantially all personal property; and
- the tenant has vacated the premises without communicating an intent to return, the rent is more than 15 days past due, and thereafter the landlord has posted a notice regarding the tenant’s rights regarding the personal property.
The statute also includes a form of notice to be used.
The new law continues the requirements set forth in the prior law requiring the landlord to store abandoned property for 10 days after giving notice to the tenant, which period is extended to 30 days after the date of the notice if the tenant requests.
There are several problems created for landlords under the new law.
First, where does the landlord store the property during the 10 or 30 day periods? The law states that it may be at a place of the landlord’s choosing, but what if the landlord does not have a storage facility? Then, presumably, the landlord must store the property at the premises, creating problems with the use of the premises for the landlord or a new tenant during such periods. Even if a new tenant is willing to allow storage of the prior tenant’s property during the 10 or 30 day period, retrieval by the prior tenant could be problematic. If the landlord does have a separate storage location, the landlord will have to arrange to have the property moved to such location.
Second, the law states that the tenant is responsible for the landlord’s costs of storage, but the law does not address whether the landlord may demand reimbursement as a condition of releasing the property to the tenant. Therefore, it seems likely that landlords will have difficulty recovering costs of storage.
Third, the new law adds a provision making the landlord liable for treble damages, attorney fees and court costs for violations.
The new law also adds a provision making conflicting provisions of the lease control (except where the landlord has notice of a protection from abuse order). Therefore, the landlord and tenant may (and probably should) agree in the lease to alternative provisions.