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Monday, May 11, 2009

Abandoned Property

ISSUE: A Landlord must often deal with property seemingly abandoned by a former tenant. While the Landlord would like to dispose of or sell this abandoned property, the Landlord may not know who owns the property or if there is a recorded security interest. In some instances, the Landlord may want to sell the property to satisfy unpaid rent or transfer it to the next tenant. Before any decision can be made, the Landlord must determine whether the property is truly abandoned and whether other parties may have a legal claim to the property.

THE LAW OF FINDS: "Abandonment" according to the Law of Finds, means that the owner of the goods has voluntarily relinquished "possession with the intention of terminating his ownership and with no intention of vesting title in another."

ACTION ADVISE: If the Landlord wishes to transfer or sell the property, it should: (1) Do a complete inventory of the property by 2 witnesses; (2) Examine the property for evidence of ownership; and (3) Conduct a UCC search for recorded liens or leases.

NOTICE: The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act requires a letter to be sent to the former tenant giving a 10 day notice that unless the property is retrieved it will be considered abandoned. Normally Residential Landlords are held to a higher standard than Commercial Landlords when dealing with their tenants. Therefore, it would be appropriate to provide a 10 day notice to any person who you believe has an interest in the property, including parties with UCC claims, tenants, or names which are found on the property.

DISPOSITION: If none of these parties make a claim, the property is probably abandoned. This determination will have to be made in each situation on a case by case basis in conjunction with a lawyer. Non-legal factors may impact on your determination of how to dispose of the property, i.e. the value of the equipment or if it can be transferred to a new tenant in the same space. A carefully worded sale agreement of the equipment may provide some protection for the Landlord from a subsequent claimant.

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The above article is not meant to replace legal counsel. To speak with one of Gross & Romanick's attorneys, please contact the firm itself by calling (703) 273-1400.