Friday, March 28, 2014


A 5-year-old boy revealed to investigators that he intentionally set fire to his home with a lighter Sunday night. He, his mother, and two other children escaped the blaze but his 2-year-old cousin died of smoke inhalation in an upstairs bedroom.

Children under the age of 10 cannot be prosecuted for homicide in Pennsylvania, but the boy will be evaluated by Children Youth and Families and court proceedings may result in his being removed from the family.

According to Stephen A. Zappala Jr., the Allegheny County district attorney, the landlord had likely violated local ordinance by not maintaining or providing smoke alarms in the rental property. The scene was reported by firemen and neighbors to have been silent, with no alarms sounding at the time of the fire.

Mayor Michael Cherepko said 60 percent of the houses in McKeesport are owned by absentee landlords and that many of those landlords allow their properties to fall into a state of disrepair. His administration is working on a plan to better enforce local ordinance through the occupancy permit process.

We in the rental industry are all very aware of the many associated tasks and daily responsibilities that may, at times, feel burdensome. It is after tragedies like these, however, where it becomes abundantly clear that dire consequences can result from our negligence.

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It may appear that your resident has permanently surrendered possession of your rental unit…they have moved the majority of their belongings and returned the keys. If any personal belongings of sentimental or monetary value have been left behind you should use caution before cleaning out the unit for re-rental. The legal parameters regarding the disposal of personal property can often seem vague and confusing to property owners when applied to real world situations. Here are a few helpful points to bear in mind:

There are regulations in place to protect the rights of the resident (making a “lockout” illegal). The statutes allow for removal of property under certain, specific circumstances, however, the only way to guarantee that there can be no legal claims against you as the landlord is to go through the eviction process and have a writ of restitution executed by a sheriff.

To avoid having to go through the eviction process simply to remove any abandoned belongings, you may get the resident to sign a Waiver of Abandoned Property upon vacating. This document states that the resident has left the unit and is willing to waive all rights to any property left behind. With the signing of this type of document, you could cancel any pending eviction and have some security in reclaiming the rental property.

For more information and useful resources pertaining to rental property ownership, visit our website: