Q: We were walking on the beach, and found an item that appears to be of real value. We looked around, held it up, even talked to a few people, but no one knew anything about it. I sometimes see people with those metal detectors at the beach, and I assume whatever they find they keep, right?
- S.P., Hermosa Beach
Answer: The expression "finders keepers, losers weepers" comes to mind, but it is not quite that way in California. Here, Penal Code Section 485 precludes you from keeping property you find where there are clues identifying the actual owner. It is not necessary that you go to extremes to find the owner, but the law does require you to make a reasonable attempt to do so.
Specifically, Section 485 uses the phrase "reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him." If you do not make such effort, and the owner surfaces who proves rightful ownership, you could be found guilty of theft and subject to punishment. Now, does this mean placing an ad in the newspaper? I would not think so, but Section 485 refers to finding property "under circumstances which give (you) knowledge of or means of inquiry as to the true owner."
Q: We had several items stolen from our house. We have suspicions about who did it, as we are having remodeling work done. Aside from whoever did it, what's the process to report this to our homeowner's insurance?
A: The insurance policy should have provisions setting forth that you are to give notice as soon as practicable, as well as how and where the notice is to be sent (typically in writing). A phone call to the carrier may also be advisable, but, if you have an agent who placed the policy for you, the agent should be able to give the notice.
You ultimately will provide a "proof of loss" detailing what was taken, proving its value, photos of the items if you have them (or even some of them), the date you discovered the theft, and related details. Informing the police, and thereby making a formal police report, is also important.
You should check to see if there is any deductible under your policy, and just what is covered. Some of the items, if particularly precious, may not be covered (or at least not to their actual value), which is something to think about when first getting the insurance as opposed to after the fact.
Q: Doesn't the State Controller's Office have an unclaimed property unit?
- G.O., Lomita
A: The State Controller's website on unclaimed property indicates the state presently is holding more than $6.1 billion in unclaimed property belonging to approximately 17.6 million people and organizations. The property often winds up with the state through the Unclaimed Property Law, which requires "holders" (e.g., financial institutions, insurance companies, businesses) to report each year and turn over property to the Controller's Office when there has been no customer contact for three years. Among other things, the website allows you to search the Unclaimed Property Database (go to www.claimit.ca.gov/).
Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 30 years of experience. His column appears on Wednesdays. Email questions and comments to him at RonSEsq@aol.com or write to him at Ask The Lawyer, Daily Breeze, 21250 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 170, Torrance, CA 90503. This column is a summary of the law and not a substitute for legal consultation on any particular case.