Laws Governing Abandoned Property - PropertyBlawg

Laws Governing Abandoned Property

by JRO on October 1, 2012

(US laws regarding abandoned property)

What is abandoned property?

Personal property of all kinds may be abandoned, whether it is land, vehicles, or material goods. Many individuals are not aware that the law determines what constitutes abandoned property. The law also governs who is entitled to abandoned property once it is discovered. Legal steps must be taken in claiming ownership over the property, and laws vary from state to state.

When are properties considered to be abandoned?

In order for the law to recognize personal property as abandoned, it must be evident that the original owner has no intention of reclaiming it. Unlike lost or misplaced property, abandoned property is intentionally left unused or discarded by the owner. For example, if a cell phone is accidentally left by someone on a park bench, it is likely that the person did not abandon the phone, but misplaced it. However, if someone throws a cell phone in a trash can, it is evident that the owner of the cell phone has no intention of using or reclaiming the cell phone again. In such a case, the abandoned property can be claimed by the person who discovers it and takes possession of it first.

Real property such as cars and property with titles are often abandoned. These items are not assumable by a finder under the law. Because taxes are paid on these items, they usually become property of the state when they are abandoned, by a process called escheat. The state may sell abandoned items to recover unpaid taxes on the item.

Abandoned Patent Rights

Federal laws regarding abandoned patent rights assert that abandonment must be proved before revoking the inventor’s ownership or application. Inventors are not penalized for a delay in applying for a patent or for not renewing a patent. To declare a patent abandoned, a second party must prove that the inventor intentionally did not dedicate time to a project or surrendered the rights to the patent in writing. Laws on patentability are written specifically protect the inventor. Exceptions are made when the patent interferes with national security.

Self Storage Facilities

Each state has its own laws regarding the treatment of abandoned property left in storage facilities. Some states regard the non-payment of fees for storage units as abandonment of the items. Other states, such as Massachusetts, require all persons in receipt of goods that may be considered abandoned to report it and complete an application for ownership of the item.

Generally, items in self storage facilities are considered to be abandoned when the renter stops paying rental fees according to the terms of the rental lease. Owners of self storage facilities must create applications for customers in accordance with state laws.

When a breach of a rental agreement is breached, most states require the owner of the storage facility to contact the customer and notify them that their items are considered to be abandoned and may be publicly auctioned so the owner can give the unit to a paying customer. Some states require the owner to make a public announcement in the local newspaper that customer must respond or items will be auctioned off.

The customer in breach of his or her rental agreement is eligible to bid on their own items at the auction. State law also determines whether or not the contents in a unit can auction off items as a bulk lot or piece by piece.

About the author

This article was written by Danny Katsopolus for the team at disability lawyers; contact them if you need assistance from disability lawyers with extensive experience with disability law.

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