R. Todd Bennett, P.C.
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Can you choose to keep something you find in the street?

You are likely familiar with the term “finders, keepers.” If you happen across a piece of personal property in Houston that appears to have been forgotten or abandoned, your first impulse may be to attempt to find the owner. Yet what if you cannot? Does whatever you have found then become yours? If you keep it, can the original property owner later find you and accuse you of theft?

The answer to that question is based upon whether or not property is determined to be lost or mislaid. Lost property is that which was unintentionally left behind by the owner. Mislaid property is that which was intended for use, but then forgotten. An example may be if you happen across a tablet. If you find that tablet on a sidewalk, then the odds are that it fell out of a bag or purse. If, however, you found it sitting on a table in an empty conference room, then the owner more than likely was using it and then left it behind.

In general, mislaid property would go to the owner of the property where it was found. This is because the original owner is more likely to return to that location once he or she discovers the property to be missing. On the other hand, you can usually keep lost property until the owner comes forward.

According to the Texas Property Code, personal property is considered to be abandoned if, after three years, you have been unable to find the original owner, or no claim has been initiated asserting ownership of it. Once that time passes, you are legally entitled to assume ownership of it. 

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