When tenants move out, landlords often find themselves not only cleaning up and repairing damage but also dealing with personal property left behind. When it's clear that what's left behind is garbage—such as food wrappers, broken furniture, or leftover cleaning supplies—the landlord is free to dispose of it.
Getting rid of belongings that have value (whether monetary, medical, or sentimental)—such as bicycles, furniture, medicine, or family photos—is another story. Pennsylvania has specific laws for when and how landlords can get rid of a tenant's abandoned personal property.
Before getting rid of any personal property, landlords must first determine whether the property is, in fact, abandoned. Pennsylvania law states that landlords can consider property to be abandoned when:
68 P.S. § 250.505a (2021).
First, landlords should review the lease or rental agreement to see if there are any terms that address how to notify the tenant about or how to handle abandoned property. If the lease or rental agreement addresses abandoned property, its terms will govern, even if they conflict with state law.
A landlord must provide the tenant with written notice of the tenant's rights before the landlord can remove or dispose of the abandoned property. The landlord must send the notice via first class mail to the tenant at the rental address and to any forwarding or emergency contact address provided by the tenant. The notice must state something similar to the following:
Personal property remaining at [address] is now considered to have been abandoned. Within ten 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 thirty 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.
The tenant has ten days from the postmark date of the notice to either retrieve the property or request that the landlord store the property for up to 30 days from the date of the notice.
When a tenant requests that the landlord store the property for up to 30 days, the landlord can choose where to store the property, and the tenant will be responsible for paying the landlord's costs.
When the tenant does not claim the abandoned property during the allotted time period, the landlord is free to dispose of the property in any way the landlord wishes. Pennsylvania law does not address how landlords must use funds received from selling the abandoned property. The best course of action would be for a landlord to apply the funds towards unpaid rent, damages to the rental, and the costs of storing and selling the abandoned property. If, after applying the funds to these costs, there is still money remaining, the landlord should consider holding the funds in escrow for an additional 30 days before using it to avoid any potential claims of misuse.