Whether you can keep something that you have found, for example the Warnadoone fisherman who found a dilt float off the Toti coast, depends on where you found it – in a public place or on property that belongs to someone else.
READ IT HERE: Catch of a lifetime for ROV finder
The owner is always entitled to recover an article from the finder. If the finder cannot return it – perhaps because it was subsequently sold or given away – the owner will be able to sue the finder for the value of the article.
The finder of an article who does not take reasonable steps to trace its owner is guilty of theft. It is never enough for the finder to do nothing merely because of a belief that the owner is unlikely to be found.
Your best form of action if you find an article is to hand it to the police and let them make inquiries. This will serve as proof of your honest intentions. The police will hold the article on your behalf for one month if it is of little value, or three months if it is valuable. If the owner cannot be traced in this time, the police will return the article to you. If you do not want it, it will be sold by auction and the proceeds held by the police.
Yours but not yours
Even if an article is returned to you because its original owner cannot be traced, it does not become your property for a long time.
While you may, for example, be allowed to openly wear a watch that you have found, the original owner can still claim it back at a later stage. In fact, an owner has up to 30 years to claim goods. If you sell goods that you have found, you will have to pay the owner in cash for what the item was worth.
If you find an article at your place of work, you must hand it to your employer, who, in turn, must try to trace the owner. If you find an article in a public place such as a cinema, a bar or a shop, you should give it to the person in charge, as it is more likely that the owner will return there to enquire whether it has been found. If it is a valuable article – such as a diamond ring – ask the person to whom you hand it to give you a receipt.
Animals and birds
Fowls, geese or other domestic animals that stray or fly away do not become the property of the finder. A finder who keeps them would be guilty of theft.
Wild animals, however, become the property of the finder – provided they are not protected by conservation laws or housed in one of South Africa’s game parks.
When you may keep something you find
You may keep an article that has been abandoned – but only if it is certain that its owner does not intend to reclaim it or use it again. You become its owner once you remove or seize it, since ownership begins when you acquire possession. However, it is important to ascertain that the article has been abandoned. Generally, if the property has any value, the intention of the owner to abandon it cannot be presumed and it must be treated as a lost article.
Say you find a box filled with money – or better still – a consignment of gold and silver that has been concealed on your property for such a long time that it is impossible to trace the original owner. To whom does it belong? The answer is simple. You.
If you found the hoard on someone else’s property, you’d still come away smiling – half the property would go to the property owner and half to you.
If, however, you found treasure on another person’s property as a result of a deliberate search, it would all go to the owner of the property unless there was a previous agreement to give you a share of it. If treasure is found on land that you have sold, but which has not yet been transferred, you are entitled to it.
Articles found in the sea, on the seabed or on the seashore do not belong to the finder. In fact, not only is it an offence to take goods from a sunken ship, but it is also illegal to claim items that were jettisoned from the ship to lighten it because it was in peril of sinking.
If you find a wreck, parts of a wreck or items from a vessel, you must inform a salvage officer, who can be found at most large ports, a customs official or a police officer.
If your actions help to save the property, you will be entitled to a reward, known as salvage, from the owner. If, while saving or finding a wreck you incur costs, you are entitled to reimbursement for all reasonable expenses, as well as salvage. You may not demand a reward or claim costs, such as for advertising that you have recovered the items from a wreck, from the owner – unless you have returned the property.
If, however, a reward is offered by the owner and you meet the conditions (if any) that are attached to the offer, you must be paid when you return the article to the owner.
Finders keepers – or not? what do you think….comment below.
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