The state of South Carolina has varying rules about the abandonment of types of personal property like motor vehicles and watercraft. A person needs to know the state law specific to the item to determine when it is considered abandoned and how it may be returned.
Certain institutions have their own rules about abandoned property. For example, the University of South Carolina tags bikes that seem abandoned after a semester ends. A tagged bike is placed in storage and the owner has 120 days to reclaim the bike from parking and transportation services.
Bank Accounts and Dormancy of Unclaimed Funds
A dormancy period is the length of time for which an owner has not exercised control over their property. In South Carolina, most types of property have a five-year dormancy period.
An account is dormant if the owner has not indicated that they have an interest in the property, or the manager of the account has not made contact with the owner for the dormancy period.
Statutes regarding dormancy periods are found in Title 27 of the South Carolina Code of Laws, concerning property and other conveyances. For example, the dormancy period for:
- Wages, payroll or salary: one year.
- Dividends: three years.
- Money orders: seven years.
Funds in South Carolina Unclaimed Property Program
The state has created an Unclaimed Property Program to return money in dormant accounts to owners. The South Carolina Office of the State Treasurer will direct a claimant or owner to the program’s website.
An individual or business enters their name and city to learn whether there is unclaimed property due them. They can also submit a claim to the state if they think property is owed to them.
Unclaimed Property to Be Checked Every Year
The South Carolina Uniform Unclaimed Property Act requires all holders to examine their records every year to learn whether they are in possession of any unclaimed property.
If so, they must attempt to locate the rightful owners of accounts of $50 or more. If the holder cannot locate the owners, they must remit the property to the state treasurer’s office and provide a report that includes the names and last-known addresses of the owners of the property.
Abandoned Vehicles in South Carolina
A motor vehicle is considered abandoned if it is required to be registered in the state if operated on a public highway and is left unattended on a highway for over 48 hours.
Alternatively, it is considered abandoned if it has been on private or other public property for a period of time of over seven days without the consent of the owner or person in control of the property. A law enforcement officer who has knowledge of an abandoned motor vehicle has a duty to seize it and remove it.
The vehicle will be taken for safekeeping to a place designated by the sheriff of the county or the chief of police of the municipality in which it was found. That officer is in charge of the custody and disposition of abandoned vehicles.
Abandoned Watercraft in South Carolina
A watercraft such as a boat is considered abandoned if it has been moored, stranded, wrecked, sinking or sunk, and has been left unattended for over 45 days. A watercraft is not abandoned if it is legally moored or is on private property like a private dock or land adjacent to a home.
An abandoned watercraft identified as such by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) may be removed at the risk and expense of the owner. It will be disposed of by any government agency that has jurisdiction over the area where the abandoned watercraft is located.
DNR must conduct an investigation of any watercraft that appears to have been abandoned to determine its status. DNR sends written notice and makes additional reasonable efforts to notify the last known owner of the watercraft. If these efforts fail, DNR must post a notice on the watercraft advising that it is abandoned.
Claiming Possession of a Watercraft
If the owner claims possession of the watercraft within 45 days of the date the notice is posted, the watercraft is not considered abandoned. A watercraft identified by DNR as abandoned for at least 90 days may be claimed by any person or entity as abandoned property.
Abandoned Animals in South Carolina
A person may not abandon an animal. Abandonment is defined as deserting, forsaking or intending to give up an animal without finding another owner or providing the animal with the necessities of life, which include adequate water, food and shelter.
A person who violates this law is guilty of a misdemeanor. The penalty for this offense is up to 30 days of incarceration and a fine between $200 and $500. Offenses for the abandonment of animals must be tried in the magistrate’s court or in a municipal court.
Abandonment in Residential Leases
In landlord-tenant law, the phrase “abandoned” refers to a unit in which a tenant has been absent for over 15 days after failing to pay rent. When a tenant abandons a unit, the apartment building that contains the unit is not abandoned as a whole.
A third party cannot buy the unit or building because the tenant did not pay rent. A landlord in charge of an abandoned unit must make reasonable efforts to rent it at a fair price.
Tenant Personal Property
When a tenant leaves personal property like books and furniture in an abandoned unit, the landlord may enter the unit and take possession of the property. They must hold the property for at least 14 calendar days after retaking possession of the unit.
If the tenant does not get their property, the landlord may take it in satisfaction of the tenant’s debt, if the items are worth enough money to satisfy the debt. The landlord is allowed to seize personal clothing, food within the dwelling, bedsteads, bedding and cooking utensils.
The landlord may also seize property owned by a third party if the court finds ownership was transferred from the tenant to the third party for the purpose of avoiding payment to the landlord.
- South Carolina Code of Laws: Title 27, Property & conveyances
- South Carolina State Treasurer: Unclaimed property program
- South Carolina Code of Laws: Title 50, Fish, game, and watercraft
- South Carolina Code of Laws: Title 56, Motor vehicles
- State Treasurer of South Carolina: Unclaimed property Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- University of South Carolina: Abandoned bikes will be tagged Nov. 16-20
- South Carolina Code of Laws: Title 47, Animals, livestock and poultry
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.