Important Update for PA Landlords
By David M. Tkacik, Esq.
Landlord-Tenant Legislation Update:
The Act 129 of 2012 Amendment to the Landlord and Tenant Act
The Abandoned Property Bill, Act 129 of 2012 (“the Act”), went into effect on September 3,
2012 and made important amendments to Pennsylvania’s Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951, 68 P.S. §§250.101 et seq. The Act is codified at 68 P.S. § 250.505a. The Act applies when a tenant has “relinquished possession of the premises.” The Act contemplates two situations where a tenant has “relinquished possession of the premises” – (1) when the landlord executes an order of possession in favor of the landlord, and (2) when the tenant has physically vacated the premises, removed “substantially all personal property” and provided the landlord with a forwarding address or written notice stating that the tenant has vacated the premises. Notably, the Act does not explicitly state that these are the only two situations in which a tenant will be deemed to have “relinquished possession” and trigger the Act, but it is likely this is the case. Therefore, the “skip out” situation, whereby the tenant vacates the premises, removes substantially all property, but provides no forwarding address or written notice, does not trigger the landlord’s responsibilities under the Act.
Subject to additional nuances within the Act, the Act sets up a framework where the tenant has
ten days to contact the landlord regarding the tenant’s intent to remove personal property remaining on the premises. In some cases the landlord must send a specific written notice to start the ten-day clock, as detailed below. If the intent is conveyed to the landlord, the personal property shall be retained by the landlord at a site of the landlord’s choosing for thirty days. If no communication is made to the landlord within ten days, the property may be disposed of at the end of the ten days at the discretion of the landlord.
In situations where the Act applies, the landlord’s responsibilities depend on what notices have been provided to the tenant, either by the court in the case of executing an order for possession, or by the landlord’s lease in the case of the tenant vacating and giving notice. If the tenant has “relinquished possession” under the first situation, and the writ or order contained notice of the rights in 68 P.S. § 250.505a(b), then no additional notice is required from the landlord. The Act is silent on when the 10-day clock begins under this scenario, but presumably it starts the day when the writ or order is executed. The Act is also silent on whether the landlord must send written notice if the writ or order did not contain such a notice. In that case, landlord’s counsel should probably advise the landlord to send written notice pursuant to 68 P.S. § 250.505a(c)(2) as described below.
If the tenant has “relinquished possession” under the second situation, and the lease or lease addendum contained notice of the rights in 68 P.S. § 250.505a(b), then additional written notice under 68 P.S. § 250.505a(c)(2) is required and the ten-day clock starts from the date of the notice’s postmark. Alternatively, if the lease does not contain the subsection (b) notice, the landlord must send written notice under 68 P.S. § 250.505a(c)(2) – but additionally must send notice to any emergency contact that “may have been provided by the tenant in a lease agreement.” Similarly, in this situation the Act provides that the ten-day clock starts from the date of postmark.
Regarding the content of the notice under 68 P.S. § 250.505a(c)(2), the Act provides that the notice must contain the following: (1) notice that the tenant that personal property “remains on the premises” and must be retrieved; (2) notice that the tenant has ten days from the date of the postmark to notify the landlord of the tenant’s intent to retrieve the personal property; (3) a phone number and address where the landlord can be contacted; (4) the location where the personal property can be retrieved; (5) notice that the tenant shall be required to pay costs related to the removal or storage of property retrieved after ten days under 68 P.S. § 250.505a(f). The notice must also be sent by “regular mail” to the tenant’s forwarding address, or, if the tenant provided no forwarding address (and thus only a written notice that the tenant has vacated), then to the formerly leased premises. Alternatively, the Act provides that the notice may be sent by “personal delivery to the tenant.” Presumably, the ten-day clock would start on the day the notice was personally delivered, though again the Act is silent. Additionally, it appears that the landlord must determine the storage location at the time the landlord sends the notice, since only one notice is required and the retrieval location must be named at that time.
The Act specifies the landlord must exercise “ordinary care” with regard to any personal property left behind and if moving it off-site, must use “means reasonably calculated to safeguard the property.” The tenant does not have to pay storage or removal costs during the ten-day period. After the ten days have expired, however, the Act states that the tenant “shall be required to pay any reasonable and actual costs related to the removal or storage of the property.” Accordingly, after the ten-day period has expired, though not explicitly stated as such, it would appear that the landlord may rightfully deny the tenant access to personal property stored off-site unless the tenant paid the storage costs.
After the applicable time period has expired, the landlord has no further responsibility and may dispose of the property. If the personal property is sold, and proceeds exceed any outstanding obligations the proceeds shall be forwarded to the tenant by certified mail. If no forwarding address has been provided, then the landlord shall hold the proceeds for thirty days and, if unclaimed, may retain the excess proceeds.
Currently, there are two bills pending in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, House Bill 1713 and House Bill 1714 (Session of 2013), that would amend the Act. House Bill 1713 would purport to cover the landlord’s obligations during a “skip out” and provide a cause of action against the landlord for violating the Act for “double the value of the personal property taken and costs.” House Bill 1714 would also purport to cover the “skip out” situation, feature a provision on deceased tenants, allow for written leases to supersede the act, and provide a form for the landlord’s notice regarding abandoned property.
Disclaimer: This information material does not constitute legal advice. Always consult with an attorney prior to taking any action based on the above.
For more info – contact Dave Tkacik ESQ
(June 2014 Newsletter)