What to Do with Abandoned Materials

One “rule” we all learned as kids is “Finders keepers.” You find something and nobody claims it, it’s yours to keep or do with as you wish. That’s pretty much how it is with abandoned property that comes into our possession as adults.

While the details may vary by state, the basic principle under common law is that anyone who finds abandoned property may claim it as their own. The question is, what is considered material abandonment?

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What is Material Abonnement?

Abandoned property is any personal property left, without provision for its reasonable care or supervision, by an owner who has relinquished all rights to it. (Personal property is defined as anything other than land that is subject to ownership.)

Property that was lost, or unintentionally left someplace does not automatically qualify as abandoned property. The trick is being able to tell whether it was left intentionally or not. That’s where state laws come into play.

Every state has laws governing the disposition of abandoned personal property. In some states, certain types of abandoned personal property, such as an abandoned vehicle, becomes the property of the state. There are also laws requiring abandoned financial instruments (e.g., bank accounts, uncashed checks, etc.) to be turned over to the state and can be claimed only by the rightful owner or the next-of-kin if the owner is deceased.

Our focus here, however, is on abandoned property that can be claimed by finders as their own and disposed of as they wish.

Claiming Abandoned Property

In general, if the owner of property suspected to have been abandoned is identified, the finder is legally obligated to try to contact that owner and return the property unless the owner confirms that it was intentionally abandoned. Let’s assume that this is not the case, and consider what can be done with property that truly has been abandoned.

Typically, when abandoned property is found, ownership transfers to the finder if the finder takes certain steps to claim it as their own. That could mean moving the abandoned property to a space belonging to the finder, such as a storage unit or the finder’s home. Or, if it’s not easily moved, simply putting a sign on it identifying it as the finder’s property will suffice.

Two Common Examples

Two common examples of abandoned property are:

  • Leftover building materials abandoned by a construction company upon completion of a project, and
  • Furnishings and personal belongings left behind by a tenant when vacating a rental property

The second of these is easier for the “finder” to deal with, the finder being the owner of the rental property. It’s not uncommon for departing tenants to abandon furniture and other items that they don’t need or prefer not to have to transport to a new residence.

In most states, the building’s owner can keep or dispose of the abandoned items after a specific period of time. In Texas, for instance, the landlord must notify a former tenant that the abandoned items must be retrieved within 60 days. After 60 days, the building’s owner can claim the items and decide whether to keep them, sell them, or discard them. It’s not uncommon for owners of large apartment complexes to have an agreement with a local salvage firm that will, for a fee, remove and sell or recycle the abandoned items, returning the proceeds to the landlord.

In the case of abandoned building materials, the top priority for the party who has claimed ownership is to determine whether any of those materials are hazardous. Materials containing or treated with certain chemicals may require special handling.

Builders sometimes overestimate materials quantities needed or deliberately overbuy “just in case.” Sometimes entire pallets of unused materials are left behind, but there is no reason for them to end up in a landfill simply because the finder doesn’t need or want them.

A salvage firm or abandonment removal service firm not only should be able to identify any hazardous materials. They also can identify markets for any materials that can be converted into cash by selling them for reuse “as is” or for transformation into another product through recycling.

Disposing of abandoned materials of any kind in a way that keeps them (and all their embedded carbon) out of a landfill makes good financial sense for the finder and good environmental sense for the planet.

Contact Repurposed Materials today to find out how we can help you find a new home for unwanted materials.