Q: I run a small catering hall. What should I do with the coats and hats left on the coat rack?

A: Since the coats and hats are identifiable, there is a missva to enable the owners to reclaim them(hashavat aveida). In this situation, since the coat or hat was left in a reasonably secure place, it is best to leave it where it is, in case the owner comes back to retrieve it. [1]

If it is necessary to straighten the coatroom or clear the items away, they should be stored safely and neatly. It is advisable to attach a date indicating when the item was left or cleared away. A sign should be posted in a public place, such as a shul or neighborhood newspaper, stating that clothing items left at the hall can be claimed there.

If nobody claims the items after a long time passes, current halachic authorities allow you to use or sell them after first evaluating the articles and recording any pertinent features and information. If the owner subsequently comes to claim an item that was used or sold, you would have to remit, to him or her, the cash value of the item.[2]

It is preferable, to post a sign in a prominent place near the coat rack stating: “Management takes no responsibility for items left here. Articles left for more than 60 days will be given away or discarded.” You are then free to do with the items what you wish after that time.[3]Even so, if the owner comes after 60 days, and you still have the item, it is meritorious to return it.[4]

This article is intended for learning purposes only; a competent rabbi should be consulted for practical halachic guidance regarding actual cases, in which issues of dina d’malchuta may also need to be considered.

Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, which is headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, shelita, a noted dayan. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, please call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.

[1]Shulhan Aruch – H.M. 260:9-10.

[2]Iggerot Moshe H.M. II:45:4.

[3]Iggerot Moshe H.M. II:45.

[4]Shulhan Aruch – H.M. 259:5; 263:3.