Abandoned Vending Machines and Due Diligence

Sometimes, abandoned property is a great way to get a bulk vending machine for very cheap or sometimes even for free. The issue is that, many times, these machines aren’t abandoned and the original owner was never reached to refill or service it. Even if you are told by the place you’re inquiring if a machine is abandoned, you still have your due diligence to find out if it is before you get hit with a charge on stolen property. How property is considered abandoned varies from state to state, but this story will give you a general idea on what to do.

The reason this story is even being written was after reading a post on a bulk vending Facebook group where someone told their story about picking up an “abandoned” gumball machine from their local courthouse. They even explained how they called the number on the sticker after picking it up and fully expecting to just be given the keys. We’ll let you guess how well that went, but suffice to say the original owner wasn’t happy and wouldn’t just hand over the keys to their machine to a random stranger. The issue wasn’t that the poster in question called the company, either, but instead ignored follow-up calls after being told “no.” They are now skirting their legal responsibility and there was a much better way to have handled it, which will be detailed at the end of this story.

What Is Considered Abandoned Property?

What is or isn’t considered “abandoned” legally varies state by state. In most cases, it is a time period after the original property owner is given notice. For many states, it’s around 30 days but there are outliers. For example, in Indiana, the time between notification and being declared abandoned is 90 days but some are as short as just 7 to 10 days. Rhode Island seems to be only one that doesn’t have a set timeframe with its law simply stating that it must be a “reasonable amount of time.” In 11 states along with the District of Columbia (Washington DC), the timeframe must be written into a clause for the lease of property, but many bulk vending machines aren’t placed under a contract, so this means you’ll need to contact the municipality in which the machine is located to see how to legally determine if its abandoned or not. Most likely, they will fall back to trying to contact the original owner and wait between 10 and 30 days for them to pick the machine up or simply declare that it isn’t abandoned.

Even if the original owner claims that the gumball or candy machine you’re eyeing isn’t abandoned, it’s not totally a lost cause. You should try to still contact the owner after that and make an offer to purchase the machine or machines. If they haven’t serviced it in some time, then it’s possible they don’t even want it. However, that’s not a guarantee, either. Make the offer, but expect to hear “no.” Even then, you have gotten your foot in the door. See if they do have a machine or set of machines they want to sell off and you may end up getting something out of the exchange. Again, the worst case is that they say “no.”

That’s Not All, Either

Regardless, don’t just assume that since the location owner says a machine is abandoned and is willing to just let you take it that it is legally yours. Even in that situation, you need to do the due diligence and ensure that the machine will be legally yours. Unfortunately, the police won’t accept the excuse that the location owner gave you the “ok,” even if you get that in writing. You’ll still be in possession of stolen property. Even when you do get conformation, make paperwork to show you did everything to ensure that the property was abandoned and sold to you.

Make a log (but do not record the phone call without permission on the other end of the call) that you tried contacting the original owner with a date and time. Just like any purchase, have a receipt to show that you purchased it after the time required from when you first made contact (or attempted contact). Finally, do not solely rely on the location owner or manager to make contact. If they didn’t care enough to contact the original owner to service and refill the machine, you shouldn’t expect them to take the time out of their day to ensure the machine is actually abandoned. Remember, you’re the one at the end of the chain of possession of potentially stolen goods, so you’ll be the one that gets in trouble at the end of the day.

What If I Can’t Find an Owner?

In some cases, there won’t be any indication of previous ownership. A sticker is too faded to read, a business simply no longer exists, or the original owner has passed away. Again, you’ll need to check with the municipality where the machine is located, but it may fall under “lost property.” According to Cornell Law School, common law states that a person who finds lost property in public or owned property is allowed to keep it until the true owner steps forward to claim it. That said, even Cornell says that modern interpretations on lost property requires that property to be turned over to a government official. After that, a set amount of time must pass without someone claiming it and, only until after that point has passed, is when the true owner’s rights to that property is terminated and the finder gains the rights to that property.

There is an additional issue with this. You will most likely not be the one that can legally do this. Since many candy and gumball machines are set on business property, the owner of the location where the machine is at would be the only one who could request a government official to determine if it’s “lost property.” Again, quoting Cornell Law School, “In general, items which are abandoned or lost will go to the finder, unless the find is made at an owner-occupied residence. Mislaid items usually belong to the possessor of the place where the item is found. If an employee finds an item in the course of their employment, it belongs to the employer. A finder is a bailee, with a duty to care for the found item.” After that time has passed, only then can the business property owner either sell or give the machine to you.

What About That Poster You Mentioned?

Again, this story was prompted by a post on a bulk vending machine Facebook group. Leaving all names out just simply because that is the better thing to do here. Even while the courthouse is a place of law, even it can sometimes do the wrong thing or assume it. It’s unfortunately a tale of nobody doing the right thing. The machine’s owner didn’t keep track of their machine, the courthouse didn’t contact the original owner to determine its state of either being abandoned or not, and the person who took it didn’t do the right thing by offering to return it.

When the poster contacted the machine owner, they got conformation that it wasn’t abandoned property and wouldn’t be given the keys, that’s when the poster should have seen if the original owner would allow the machines to be purchased. An old saying goes “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” and offering cash for these machines could have opened the door to purchase them, or even purchase another set. Or even be lead to someone who is selling machines. What the poster did originally–hang up and ignored all subsequent calls–just opened them up to legal issues. Even worse? They publicly admitted to it on Facebook.