Casual Legal: Lost or Unclaimed Property
By Kelsey Becker Brookes
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider
Section 610 of the Municipal Government Act is an often-overlooked provision that sets out the process to be followed when a municipality comes into possession of lost or unclaimed private property.
While useful when cleaning out an arena’s ‘lost and found’ or collecting discarded items from trails and parks, it can also come in handy in the context of municipal enforcement (e.g., when entering a property for the purpose of bringing it into compliance with an order) or tax recovery proceedings (e.g., when taking possession of a parcel of land after a public auction).
Section 610 provides that lost or unclaimed property coming into the possession of a municipality must be retained for at least 30 days from the date it comes into possession of the municipality unless it is unsafe, unsanitary or perishable, in which case it may be disposed of at any time. If the property is not claimed within 30 days, it becomes the property of the municipality and the municipality may dispose of the property by public auction or as Council directs. The purchaser of lost or unclaimed property is the absolute owner of it.
While a prior owner of lost or unclaimed property is entitled to the proceeds of the sale, less all expenses incurred by the municipality, the prior owner must make a claim to the municipality within 90 days after the date of the sale. If the proceeds are not claimed within 90 days from the date of sale, the rights of any prior owner to the sale proceeds are extinguished and the sale proceeds belong to the municipality.
There is no obligation to advise the prior owner that the property has come into the possession of the municipality or that a sale will occur or has occurred. There is also no obligation to sell the property for market value. Nevertheless, in certain circumstances it would be prudent for a municipality to provide appropriate notice of an impending sale to the prior owner and sell the property at or near full market value.
To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] abmunis.ca (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] abmunis.ca (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.
DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.