Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

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Posted By Cliff Tuttle | May 9, 2010

Many landlords are concerned over what to do when the tenant moves and leaves certain property behind.

This situation is often addressed in the lease.  For example, the Pa. Association of Realtors Residential Lease states:

“Any of Tenant’s personal property or possessions remaining on the property after Tenant moves out will be considered to be abandoned property.  Landlord will have the right to remove and dispose of any abandoned property in any manner determined by Landlord.  Tenant will pay for the cost of removal and disposal of abandoned property.”

Although such a provision would ordinarily solve the problem, there are situations where such a lease provision may not apply.

If the Tenant was constructively evicted — say, by turning off the heat in winter — the landlord would dispose of the tenant’s property at his peril.

Or if the landlord and tenant discussed the tenant returning to pick up the property, but doesn’t, this could cause problems without a written agreement that covers the contingencies. For example, what happens if the tenant doesn’t come back in the stated time period?  May the landlord keep the property? Sell it?  Throw it in the dumpster?  Put it in storage and charge the tenant?

If the tenant comes to you, the landlord, with such a request, get it in writing.  Then prepare a written response setting forth the answers to the above questions and get a copy signed by the tenant.

I answered a question on AVVO Answers recently that illustrates the kind of situation that can develop.  The tenant erected an awning over the patio of a rented house.  When the tenant moved he told the landlord that he would be back in a week or two to pick it up.  Three months later, the tenant wants the awning, but the landlord rented the unit to a new tenant that is using the patio with the awning.

Such a situation leaves the landlord needlessly in the middle.  The old tenant should have signed a written agreement setting limitations on the right to remove property left behind.  Or the new tenant could have been informed in writing that the awning might be reclaimed by the old tenant.  Or both.

Riders should be drafted to standard leases to deal with situations that could arise.  Otherwise, the parties are forced to take their chances in court and, depending upon the facts, either one may have an expensive loss to absorb.  One important purpose of written contracts is to reduce risk, especially when the risk is foreseeable.  And the landlord doesn’t have to be the moving party.  Tenants can and should propose contract modifications that address their concerns at the time the contract commences.  Later may be too late.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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