What does the law say that you should do with a found item?

What to do with found itemLet’s say you’re walking down the street and you see a keychain lying on the pavement. Or you’re in a park and someone has left their mobile phone on a bench. What should you do with this found item? And are you entitled to a reward?

There’s no simple answer. The law is different from country to country and may even depend on the value or type of the item. In this article, we’ll give you a short overview of the law in the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, Germany and Austria.

In general

In most cases, the law prescribes that if you’re unable to contact the owner, you should bring the found item to a public/municipal building or to a police station. This means that you’ll need to use your car or take public transportation. In an unfamiliar town or city, you’ll first need to find out where the lost-property office or desk is located. It’s a lot of effort to help someone you don’t know, isn’t it?

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But bear in mind that if someone finds an item that you’ve lost, the finder will have the same thought. A bigger problem is that the average honest finder simply doesn’t know what the local regulations are and does just about anything with your item, making it extremely difficult to track it down. You can avoid this with Spotty labels, which the finder can use to notify you immediately and on the spot. And we always offer a reward as an additional incentive.

Per country

In the table below, you’ll find a short overview of the rules for items lost in the street. It’s possible that local jurisdictions have more specific statutes.

Country What to do with the found item? Am I entitled to a reward? Do I become the owner of the item after some time?
Belgium Take to a municipal building in the town. Not defined by law; finder’s goodwill. No. If the owner doesn’t collect it, the municipal offices may sell it.
Netherlands Take to a municipal building for items, and police station for legal documents.You can then keep the items with you or leave them at the lost-property desk.


You should get a finder’s fee, but it’s not defined how much; 10% is considered reasonable. Yes, if the owner doesn’t collect the item within one year or if the owner refuses the finder’s fee.
France Take to a municipal building’s lost-property desk. Not defined by law; finder’s goodwill. After a defined period, you may keep it, but the owner can still claim it up to three years later.
Luxemburg Take to a municipal building’s lost-property desk or another competent lost-property desk. Not defined by law; finder’s goodwill. Yes, after three years if you choose to.
Germany Take to a municipal building or to the police. Defined by law; 5% of the value up to 500 euros, and 3% above that. After six months you may become its custodian, but the finder can still claim it up to three years later.
Austria Take to a municipal building. Defined by law; 10% of the value, and 5% above 2000 euros. No
United Kingdom Take to a police station, or keep it yourself until the finder collects it. Not defined by law; finder’s goodwill. After a few weeks, you can check with the police station if the finder has collected it. If not, it’s yours (except for items containing personal details, such as computers).

The above table gives a quick overview, but local laws are generally more complex. There may be a distinction depending on the item’s value, the place where it was found (public transportation), whether it’s lost or just forgotten, and so on. At Wikipedia, you’ll often find useful information or links. Otherwise, just Google it. 

What does a lost-property desk do with the found items?

Sticker to prevent item loss

If the items have a Spotty tag, the lost-property desk can get in touch with you instead of you needing to find them. If you item is not tagged and they can’t find you – and you can’t find them because you don’t necessarily know where your item was brought in – your item will be safeguarded for a defined period. After that, and depending on the country and type of item, your item will either be given to the finder, auctioned or destroyed.

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