Imagine walking down any one of New York City’s streets and finding a jacket or scarf on the ground, or sitting down to eat at one of the city’s restaurants and noticing that a tablet or smartphone has been left on the table. Are you entitled to keep it? If you do, and the actual owner later finds you, could you be accused of theft? The answer depends on how you handle the situation.

Any found property in New York is considered to be lost, no matter if it is actually lost (unknowingly lost without the owner’s knowledge) or mislaid (intended for use but then forgotten). According to New York’s Consolidated Laws regarding personal property, if you find any lost item or instrument that obviously has a value of greater than $20, you are required to locate the owner within 10 days. If you cannot find the owner, you must then turn it in to any city police station within the same time frame. Failing to do so could result in a misdemeanor theft charge. You cannot be charged with such a crime, however, if you simply choose to hand the item over to the owner of the property where you found it (he or she then has the responsibility to turn it over to authorities).

Law enforcement officials will retain lost property for the following time periods:

  •               For items valued at less than $100, three months
  •               For items valued between $100-$500, six months
  •               For items valued between $500-$5000, one year
  •               For items valued at greater than $5000, three years

If, after the designated time period has passed, the owner of the property cannot be located, police can then turn the item over to you for possession.