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Christopher B, Esq
Christopher B, Esq, Attorney
Category: Landlord-Tenant
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Experience:  Litigation Attorney
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Western NY. In a nutshell, had a tenant, moved April 2014,

Customer Question

Western NY. In a nutshell, had a tenant, moved April 2014, caused approx. $1200 damage, left a mess. (I pretty much know what to do about this.) So... they left behind a motor vehicle in the garage, said they'll be back. Have not heard from them at all. In May 2015, Looked up real property records and sent certified mail to relevant former addresses and to where vehicle stored. No change of address, All returned as unforwardable. NY laws I've researched on line seem to be written "loose". Abandoned property law does seem to pertain to motor vehicles. No mechanics lien cuz I'm not considered a business. Questions: What to do with this vehicle with approx 5k value. If I can find them, can I get back rent paid because not fully moved out? Storage? Hire a PI? What field lawyer would I have to find. Thank you.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Landlord-Tenant
Expert:  Christopher B, Esq replied 2 years ago.

My name is***** and I will be helping you with your question today. This Information purposes only and does not establish an attorney client relationship.

There are two options I can find regarding your issue, the first is the conservative one and the second is a bit more of an unknown, open to some interpretation. It is up to you, which option you decide to choose.

Option1, an abandoned vehicle is a motor vehicle that has been left unattended on the property of another for more than 96 hours, if it was left without the permission of the owner.

First contact the local authority that has jurisdiction over the abandoned vehicle. Local authorities are authorized to take custody of any abandoned vehicle in their jurisdiction, whether abandoned on public or private property. If the local authority does not choose to exercise its authority to take custody and ownership of the abandoned vehicle, you may do one of the following, as appropriate:

If the motor vehicle has a wholesale value of $1,250 or less, and is ten or more model years old and has been abandoned for at least one month, you may transfer the vehicle to a registered vehicle dismantler or itinerant vehicle collector. Use the Statement of Abandoned Vehicle (MV-37). To calculate the first eligible model year, subtract 9 from the current calendar year. For example, 2015 minus 9 equals 2006, and eligible model years would be 2006 and older.

If the motor vehicle does not meet all of the preceding requirements, ask your local police agency to give a towing company an authorization to tow the vehicle away from your property.

Option 2, although it is unsettled law, there is a valid argument that a motor vehicle should not be treated any differently from any other valuable piece of property left behind by a tenant. If just left behind, the common law tradition makes the landlord an involuntary gratuitous bailee, with the responsibility to take ordinary care of the tenant's property for a reasonable period, while attempting to convince the tenant to move the property on his own.

While the property remains in the landlord's control and possession the landlord even though serving as a bailee without fee and without true consent, may not cause damage to the property by gross neglect and cannot dispose of the property. A landlord may move the property to short term storage as long as the landlord presents all the information to the tenant needed for the tenant to maintain the storage on his own account.

Instead of statutes, New York relies on landlord and tenant to each anticipate the what to do if property is left behind scenario, and come to terms in a written lease, or allow the courtroom made law (the law in the books made by judges deciding cases and controversies) control the event.

Unlike most states, New York has no written laws telling landlords how to deal with valuable personal property an ex-tenant leaves behind. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t rules you should follow. New York case law provides guidelines for what you must do with a tenant’s abandoned property. There are also common sense steps you should take.

If you’re certain the property has been abandoned and your lease doesn’t cover the matter, it’s usually safe to take the following steps: take inventory of the property (including photographs), carefully store it, and send a detailed notice to the tenant.

If you’ve given the tenant reasonable notice and they haven’t come back for the property, you can dispose of it. To be safe, you may wish to: ***** ***** property at a public sale, publish notice of the sale in a prominent place, including a newspaper with daily, local circulation, and send the tenant a final notice that states where and when you will sell the property.

If the tenant owes you money for back rent, property damage, or reasonable storage costs -- and the tenant’s security deposit didn’t cover everything -- you can take the balance out of the sale proceeds. If there’s money left over, you’d be wise to keep funds from sale proceeds in trust for the tenant for at least one year before pocketing the extra cash. If there is insufficient money to cover back rent, property damage, or storage costs, you may sue the tenant in small claims court.

Please let me know if you have any further questions and please positively rate my answer as it is the only way I will be compensated. (There should be smiley faces or numbers from 1-5 next to my answer, an excellent or good rating would be fantastic.)

Customer: replied 2 years ago.
In all fairness to you and me, your response came as I the initial question was being edited. It seems you are practiced in NY law and that would be good. If not, we will have to conclude this session because NY laws are indeed "unsettled." The preferred outcome is that the vehicle would be obtained and titled. It has a lien but don't know if theres a balance. Upon inquiry, must a credit union respond with yes or no if there is a balance? Problem is this person can not be located, at least no trails online. How would one research/find "courtroom made law". How does one find a person without a major expense? Post office-forget it. Utility companies want a court order. Big question is if this guy does show up someday and says give me the vehicle, are you obligated to do so even if he has not been around in16 months. What do you say to the cop? If put in storage, advertised, etc sold, how does (important) the buyer get a title? MayI call you? Preferred time or call me. I speak faster than type. Thank you
Expert:  Christopher B, Esq replied 2 years ago.

I do not perform the service of live phone call as that could negatively affect my state bar license and can lead to the inference of an attorney client relationship which is prohibited by this site as these answers are for informational purposes only and should not be a replacement for actual legal advice. If you would like I can opt out and open the question up to other experts if you would like to speak to someone over the phone.

Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Understood. Please continue with your reply. Thank you.
Expert:  Christopher B, Esq replied 2 years ago.
After doing some further research on the subject, I will have to say that I do believe a motor vehicle would need to be treated differently than other valuable personal property left on the premises so I stand corrected. I found a couple of cases that stated that Motor vehicles are often a special category of personal property to which state rules on abandoned property don’t apply. So I stand corrected about option number 2. If the tenant has left a car or other vehicle behind, call the local police, giving the vehicle’s license plate number, make, and model, and indicate where it’s parked. The police will probably arrange to have it towed after determining that it is abandoned. Like you mentioned, it would be impossible to pass clear title to someone without reaching the owner and having him/her sign over the title. So option 1 is your answer and since it is worth $5000 then your only option is to call the police and have them towed. If the person comes back for the motor vehicle they will be able to get the car out of storage from the towing company after paying all the costs associated with the tow and storage.
Please let me know if you have any further questions and please positively rate my answer if satisfied.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thank you, ***** ***** 1 is not viable at this point. Doing so will not recoup any costs for damages, storage, etc. Could you please offer an opinion on 05 August unanswered questions.
Expert:  Christopher B, Esq replied 2 years ago.

What I am saying is option 1 is the only option I could find. With the vehicle having a value over $1250 then calling the police us the only option unless you want to risk all of the apprehensions you mentioned in your answer about the former tenant coming back to you and asking for his/her vehicle. Somehow selling or scraping the vehicle for money would open you up to possible liability. The problem is selling the vehicle without a title and I know of no legal way for obtaining legal title minus finding the former tenant. You would not be liable for towing or storage with option 1 as that would be the responsibility of the former tenant.

There are many sites that can help you locate a pwrson. Spokeo (this site charges a fee) searches all social media sites. Westlake and let us nexus have background searches in their searches and also charge a fee. You could also just simply use Google to try to locate the former tenant. Unfortunately I don't have better news for you and calling the p ok lice to tow the vehicle is probably your only option.

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Expert:  Christopher B, Esq replied 2 years ago.
I see you have reviewed my answer, please let me know if you have any further questions and please positively rate my answer if satisfied.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thank you. Sorry of delay...busy... aren't we all. I have paid websites to locate people, for this and other tenant issues. For the most part, info is not current. I don't believe this type of issue has not occured before. Any insight on where to find past judges decisions on similar matters? Other options for a layman to locate people?
Expert:  Christopher B, Esq replied 2 years ago.

This situation has most likely happened before, you can search on http://caselaw.findlaw.com/courts/new-york also Westlake and lwxus-nexus although they are pay sites.

Expert:  Christopher B, Esq replied 2 years ago.
I meant lexus-nexus. http://www.spokeo.com/ might be your best best to find someone as a layman as it compiles all social media sites although I do believe they charge a small fee.
Please let me know if you have any further questions and please positively rate my answer if satisfied.

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