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USFN 25th Anniversary

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Personal Property Disposition: Connecticut

by Lawrence M. Garfinkel
Reiner, Reiner & Bendett, P.C. — USFN Member (CT)
Chair, USFN REO/Eviction Committee

Personal property disposition in Connecticut is unfortunately a largely gray area with no truly effective statutory provisions. The closest area of law we have is the landlord and tenant section of our statutes, which governs the situation where the lender or servicer owns the property and either property or people remain in the property. Unfortunately, General Statutes Section 47a-1(d) defines a landlord as “the owner … of the dwelling unit … or the premises.” So, although lenders and servicers prefer not to be categorized as landlords, the owner of the premises is the landlord in Connecticut.

Since the lender or servicer is the landlord for this purpose, we must look further in this section to determine what can be done with personal property when left at the property. There is a statute that, in title, seems to deal directly with this section, but it actually applies in only rare situations.

Statutory Hurdles
Connecticut General Statutes Section 47a-11b is entitled “Abandonment of unit by occupants. Landlord’s remedies.” The section describes a process a landlord may use when the premises are found to be abandoned that is quicker, easier, and cheaper than a full-blown eviction. This process involves notice to the occupant, waiting 10 days, and then holding the personal property for 30 days. This all sounds great, and many in Connecticut follow this path. The problem is in the first part of the statute that defines the word abandonment.

The definition states that “abandonment” is when “the occupants have vacated the premises without notice to the landlord and do not intend to return, which intention may be evidenced by the removal by the occupants or their agent of substantially all of their possessions and personal effects from the premises and either (1) nonpayment of rent for more than two months or (2) an express statement by the occupants that they do not intend to occupy the premises after a specified date.” This can work in the post-foreclosure setting on rare occasions, and only with quality REO real estate agents.

The statute requires either lack of payment of rent or an express statement. Since the lender never sends a letter to the occupants directing them to pay rent, a court would hold under a different statute that the occupant never had an obligation to pay rent to the lender. Accordingly, the first option fails. The second option could happen, but it is infrequent. If the real estate agent speaks to the occupants and they say that they are leaving on a specific date or that they have left and after that date it appears that the premises have been abandoned, then the statutory process may be followed, and it should work successfully. However, absent this statement, which is the situation most of the time, this process fails. Since the statute requires an “express” statement, it is recommended, but not required, that the statement be in writing and signed by the tenants.

There is a great deal of risk involved in removing personal property without good cause. There is a statute titled entry and detainer that provides a specific cause of action for an inappropriate entry into the property and the removal of possessions from the premises. This statute, in limited situations, even imposes double damages on the landlord. There is also the risk that the abandoned personal property contains items of great value, which of course is often claimed in this situation. When an action is brought under the entry and detainer statutes, there is usually a settlement of the action prior to judgment. In this author’s experience, the settlement range is typically $5,000 - $10,000. 

Best Practices
So, what should a lender or servicer do with abandoned personal property in Connecticut?  The best course of action is to evict or eject the property. An ejectment is faster and typically cheaper than an eviction, but can only be used against the former owner of the property. If the property is a single family residence or a condominium unit and there is evidence that the former owner was living there, then the attorney should proceed with an ejectment. If this is not the case, then unfortunately we are left with an eviction as the only legal means for disposing of personal property in Connecticut.

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