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Reviewing New York's lost property laws

Nearly everyone in Mineola has likely heard a story of someone finding something of value that has been lost in a place like a restaurant or a park. Such occurrences may be much more common than most believe. Research data shared by The New York Daily News shows that one in five Americans loses a personal item every week, with the average person losing up to $5,591 in belongings during his or her lifetime. The question is what obligations do those who find lost or mislaid items have in terms of returning them in order to avoid being accused of theft? 

To answer that question, one needs to first understand how the state defines lost property. According to Section 251.3 of New York's Personal Property Laws, lost property includes: 

  • Mislaid (forgotten) property
  • Abandoned property 
  • Waifs (property recovered after a theft)
  • Treasure troves (valuable items found hidden)

The state's property laws go on to say that if one finds (or comes into possession of) lost property that is believed to be valued at $20 or more, he or she is required to either return it to its supposed owner or the proper authorities within 10 days. For property found within a city, the proper authority would be that city's police department. It would be the state police or the sheriff's office for the county in which it was found if lost property is discovered outside of city limits. Lost property found in a state park or on a state university campus should be handed over to park officials or campus authorities, respectively. 

A failure to turn over lost property according to the law could result in a misdemeanor charge. However, handing over lost items to the owner of the property on which they were found absolves one of culpability

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