Pennsylvania landlord tenant law contains a few provision that concern personal property on the rented premises. One statute in particular has to do with the “power to distrain” for rent by the landlord. This is a legal term with historical roots, and indeed the law was put on the books in Pennsylvania in the 1800s. Power to distrain means the landlord can take personal property of the tenant, with some exceptions, as payment for unpaid rent. The idea is that the landlord would obtain an impartial appraisal of the value of such property and liquidate (sell) the property as payment for the unpaid rent. While cattle, bibles, sewing machines, and some military items are exempt from distraint, distraint is not a common practice for present day landlords in Pennsylvania, although the statute remains in the landlord tenant act. For more information, check out 68 P.S. § 250.302 and 68 P.S. § 250.401 et seq.
Abandoned personal property
Some landlords will have to deal with abandoned personal property that is left behind by a departing tenant, or by a deceased tenant. There are laws that dictate how a landlord can deal with such abandoned personal property. The first step is to determine if the property has been abandoned. Personal property is considered to be abandoned in any of these circumstances:
- The tenant has vacated the premises following the termination of a written lease;
- An eviction order or order for possession in favor of landlord has been entered and tenant has vacated the premises and removed substantially all personal property;
- An eviction order or order for possession in favor of landlord has been executed;
- The tenant has provided landlord with written notice of a forwarding address and has vacated the premises and removed substantially all personal property;
- The tenant has vacated the premises without communicating an intent to return, the rent is more than fifteen days past due and, subsequent to those events, landlord has posted notice of tenant’s rights regarding the property (the form of notice)
It is important to note that in Pennsylvania, disposing of personal property remaining on the premises by a deceased tenant is governed by the provisions of 20 Pa.C.S. §§ 711(1) (relating to mandatory exercise of jurisdiction through orphans’ court division in general) and 3392 (relating to classification and order of payment) and other relevant provisions of 20 Pa.C.S. (relating to decedents, estates and fiduciaries). A landlord in this situation will need to review those statutes and even consult with a qualified real estate attorney to confirm the order of events and requirements of the landlord in disposing of the property.
A special protection for personal property exists for tenants or immediate family of the tenant who are victims of abuse and have a protection from abuse order (68 P.S. § 250.505a(h)). If a landlord takes action to evict the tenant, and is then notified of said protection from abuse order, the landlord shall refrain from disposing or otherwise taking control of the tenant’s personal property for thirty days after having received the notice.
The landlord must provide a written notice to the tenant before removing or disposing of abandoned property (68 P.S. § 250.505a). The notice will inform the tenant of their rights regarding the property, which includes giving them ten days from the postmark date of the notice to retrieve the property or to request that the property be stored for up to thirty days. If the tenant so requests, the landlord must retain or store the property for up to thirty days from the date of the notice. The landlord gets to choose the storage location and the tenant is responsible for costs of storage. Storage will be provided at a place of Landlord’s choosing and Tenant shall be responsible for costs.
The notice must be sent by first class mail to the tenant at the address of the premises and to any forwarding address provided by the tenant, including any address provided for emergency purposes. The statute lays out the form of the notice:
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.