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Old 30 June 2018, 05:02 PM
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erwins erwins is offline
Join Date: 04 April 2006
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 12,328

Originally Posted by ChasFink View Post
I'm not sure I understand this. If I buy a relatively complex thing like a dresser, isn't there an assumption that everything in it is part of the sale? What if the seller left a few paperclips in it? A shirt? A pair of earrings? Am I obliged to give these back? How about some scotch tape left for some reason on the underside of a drawer? And most importantly, what if the sale was specifically "a dresser with contents"?

To look at it another way, there have been a number of rulings that say what someone leaves out for trash pickup is fair game for scavengers. So if that dresser with the money was left on the curb, I'd be okay to take it all home, but if I bought it, I have to give the money back?
Can you reasonably say that you bought the suitcase full of money for whatever you paid for the dresser? The only kind of sale contract that would typically include that would be some kind of unclaimed property/abandoned storage unit sort of thing, where neither buyer nor seller is supposed to know exactly what's inside, and the price reflects the risks. Otherwise, it either was not included in the sale agreement, or you at least have a mistake of fact situation, which can get complicated, but often means the buyer would not get to keep it.

Put another way--say you sell your car to a private party. You realize after they drive away that you left your work laptop in the trunk. You call the buyer and ask them to return it. They say, "sorry, I bought the car and all its contents--the jack, the spare tire, your oil change receipts in the glove box, and your work computer that you left in the trunk. Good luck with not getting fired!" Would you think the terms of the agreement to sell the person the car meant the car would come with the usual car accessories that were present in the car, or would it include all things in the car, including a valuable thing obviously mistakenly left behind, that is not associated with a car?

As for a dresser left on the sidewalk, containing money, you'd have to follow the local laws for found money. Usually, you have to either turn it in to local authorities, or hold it while you make reasonable efforts to find the owner. If you found the dresser on the sidewalk outside a home or apartment building, you'd need to contact the residents to see if they might have forgotten something inside the dresser. Often you are required to post notices of found property. If no one claims the property after a time, some laws let you keep some or all of it. If you keep it without contacting or attempting to find the owner, that usually will constitute theft.

So, contract law typically won't let you keep it, with limited exceptions, civil law has specific requirements for what you do if the owner is unknown, and criminal law typically makes it theft if you don't return it to a known owner, or if unknown, keep it without trying to locate the owner.