This post should not be construed as legal advice
Let’s talk about something common in agriculture: abandoned property. Take this example: you own an old field cultivator, planter, pickup, etc., sitting in a field near your house. One day, someone (could be a neighbor or could be a stranger) stops by to ask about purchasing the equipment. You are happy to get it off the place, so you readily agree, the person pays you, and says he/she will stop by next week to move it off your property. A few years later, you still have the piece of equipment on your property and have never seen the person since. You would really like it off your property, but what can you do?
This is a common problem not just in agriculture but in other industries, and most states have an abandoned property law to deal with these situations. In Maryland, the abandoned property is found in the Commercial Law section of the Maryland Code. Abandoned property is defined in the code as “personal property that is considered abandoned under this title” (§ 17-101(b)(1)). Personal property is “[a]ny movable or intangible thing that is subject to ownership and not classified as real property” (Black’s Law Dictionary). Although this may seem broad, Maryland excludes from personal property gift certificates, credits from the sale of consumer goods, certain checks and credits issued to vendors or commercial customers, credit balances in vendor or commercial customer accounts, or certain purchase price rebates (§ 17-101(m)). All other personal property would fall under this law.
The law does not clearly define the time period you have to hold the property before it is considered abandoned, but that the property be considered abandoned. From my earlier example, if the equipment was sold years ago and the new owner failed to pick it up, then this is a clear case of abandonment. Once, you consider the property abandoned, you would be required to send notice by first-class mail to the last known address of the owner (you did keep a bill of sale with the purchaser’s contract info, correct?) for any property over the value of more than $100 (§ 17-308.2). The notice needs to let the owner know that you currently possess the personal property and will consider it abandoned unless the owner responds within 30 days of receiving the notice (§ 17-308.2(1)-(2)).
What if the owner has moved and the letter is returned? Good question! The law does not require you to track the owner down, only that you mail it to their last known address. So if the letter is returned for a bad address, you have followed what the law has required.
Once notice has been given and no one claims the property within 30 days, you would then file a report under oath with the Administrator of the Abandoned Property Office (located with the State Comptroller’s office). Remember this report is only necessary for property valued at more than $100. The report needs to include:
- The name(s) and last known address(es) of the owner(s) of record of the property;
- Description of the property and the amount (if any) due on the property (for example the buyer offered to pay half now and half in a month but never paid the second half);
- Date when the property became payable, demandable, or returnable, and the date of the last transaction with the owner, and
- Any other information the Administrator may require.
Once the report is filed, you would turn the property over to the Administrator (§ 17-312). At this point, you would exit the situation and the State would be required to safeguard the property (§ 17-313).
Within 365 days of getting this report, the Administrator will publish a notice in the local newspaper in the county of the owner’s last known address. The Administrator will also send a notice to the last known address of the owner. If the owner still does not come forward after the proper notice, the Administrator can offer the property for sale at public auction to the highest bidder. Proceeds from the sale would be distributed to various state accounts (§ 17-317).
I realize this is not as easy as just selling the property to a new owner who will get it off your property. Sadly, that is not the process that the state set forward to get rid of abandoned property. If the property is valued below $100, contact the state Comptroller’s office to determine how to handle it correctly. In a future post, I’ll cover what to do when the buyer has paid for a portion of the used equipment, left the used equipment on your property for a long period of time, and never made additional payments.
Black’s Law Dictionary, property, (10th ed. 2014).
Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 17-101 (West 2015).
Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 17-308.2 (West 2015).
Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 17-310 (West 2015).
Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 17-312 (West 2015).
Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 17-313 (West 2015).
Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 17-316 (West 2015).
Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 17-317 (West 2015).