What to do when you find treasure? What are the rights and duties of the finder?
In this article, you will learn the difference between abandoned and lost property, who is the finder and what rights and obligations they have, and what can happen if they conceal the find. You will also read what happens when someone finds a lost animal and what happens when they find a hidden thing - a treasure.
Abandoned thing vs. lost thing
By abandoning a thing, the owner indicates they no longer want to be the owner of the thing. If it is a movable thing, by abandonment it becomes a thing without an owner - it belongs to no one. In the case of an immovable, it is different - it becomes the property of the State.
Unless prevented by the right of another or by law, a thing without an owner can be appropriated by anyone - this happens by "possessing" the thing and at the same time wanting it "for himself". For example, if someone were to throw away their old sweater (it would be obvious that they had not lost it, nor had they stored it somewhere, but simply abandoned it), someone else could pick up the sweater and start using it as their own. He would thereby acquire ownership of the sweater by appropriation.
By losing the thing, the owner does not lose his ownership, he merely ceases to be the possessor - he ceases to have actual control over the thing and does not know where the thing is. If the owner merely puts the thing away in a certain place, it is not lost.
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish whether a thing is abandoned or lost. Therefore, the law provides for a rebuttable presumption that the thing is not abandoned. You should treat a thing that is in a public place as if it had an owner - e.g. a bicycle parked outside a cinema, a dog tied up outside a shop. If it is obvious that it is a lost thing (e.g. a wedding ring on the pavement), you become a finder.
Who is the finder?
One who sees the lost thing, identifies it as lost, and takes actual possession of the thing (e.g., picks it up and carries it away). The finder does not become the owner because he lacks the will to "have the thing for himself". The exception would be if the actual owner does not claim ownership within 1 year of the discovery. Then the finder would become an equitable possessor and would acquire ownership by possession after 3 years (prescription period).
What are the obligations of the finder?
The finder must surrender the thing to the person who lost it or to the owner. However, if it is not clear to whom it is to be returned, the finder shall report the find to the Municipal Authority of the Municipality in whose territory the thing was found, within 3 days of the finding. If the thing was found in a public building or public transport, the finder shall hand it over to the operator.
The M unicipality will then announce the discovery, typically by posting a notice on the Official Notice Board. For things of lower value, no further action is usually taken. If the thing is of considerable value, the Municipality may, for example, announce the find in the media or by putting up posters. The operator of a public means of transport would do the same.
Until the owner (or the person who lost the thing) comes forward, the found thing is stored. If storage is complicated, the thing is perishable, or it is otherwise difficult to store, the thing may be sold. The owner (or the person who lost the thing) would then be entitled to the proceeds.
What are the rights of the finder?
The finder has the right to a reward. The finder's fee is 10% of the value of the find. However, if the thing is only of value to the owner (or the person who lost it), the finder is entitled to "decent fee".
The finder is also entitled to compensation for the necessary expenses incurred in connection with the finding of the thing.
What if the finder conceals the find?
Caution! It may be a criminal offence to conceal a finding if the thing is worth CZK 10,000 or more. The perpetrator can be punished by up to 1 year in prison or disqualification order. If the thing is worth from 1 million CZK or more., the perpetrator may be punished by a prison sentence of six months to five years.
At the same time, in such a case, the finder is not entitled to the finder's fee or reimbursement of the costs incurred, cannot acquire ownership of the thing, and may not use the thing.
He is also liable to pay compensation of the damage he has caused to the object, if damage occurs, and for the damage caused by his failure to report the discovery.
What about the discovery of an animal?
If an animal is found that apparently had an owner, the discovery is again reported to the Municipality in which the animal was found. The person who has custody of the animal until it is returned to its owner shall care for it as a prudent breeder. This applies to domestic or captive animals - not wild animals.
In the case of pets, a special rule applies. Pet animals are those animals kept at home for pleasure and companionship, not for profit - they can be cherubs, dogs, cats. Should the owner (or the person who lost the animal) fail to claim the animal within 2 months of the discovery, the finder becomes the owner of the animal. If the finder does not want to own the animal, the Municipality will entrust it to a shelter.
What about the discovery of a hidden object?
Here comes an important question: what if someone digs up the treasure?
If the finder, for example, digs up the treasure in a garden or finds it walled up in a cellar, it is a hidden item.
If the owner knew that the thing was hidden, the finder would not be entitled to a finder's fee. However, if it is not obvious who the treasure belongs to, the finder may be able to get a nice reward. In such a case, he must report the find to the owner of the land and the municipality where the thing was found.
If the thing does not legally belong to the State, County or Municipality, the landowner and finder agree who gets to keep the item. The other shall be paid ½ the price of the item.
If they do not agree, the item goes to the landowner, who pays ½ the price to the finder.
Certain exceptions apply: for example, archaeological finds are the property of the County. If they were found during research carried out by the Municipality (or the State), they would belong to the Municipality (or the State). However, the finder would still be entitled to the finders' fee.