When a tenant leaves a property but fails to remove all of their possessions, who now owns them and what can be done with them?
Can you remove and dispose of former tenant’s belongings?
A tenant is generally required to remove their belongings from the property and the lease will often expressly oblige the tenant to remove these chattels at the end of the term. Without an express term in the lease, leftover belongings remain the tenant’s property and the landlord will be an “involuntary bailee”.
A landlord should take great care in making any assumption that the tenant has abandoned the goods and, except in certain circumstances, must not simply discard the tenant’s possessions. They should also be alive to the risk that the fact that goods remain in the property may be evidence of an intention to return and therefore the property has not, in point of fact, been officially abandoned.
What is Abandonment and how can you remove leftover belongings?
Provided the landlord follows a set procedure, they can usually sell or dispose of the goods. The correct action is to serve a notice on the tenant (or owner of the goods) in accordance with Schedule 1 of the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, requiring them to collect the goods.
The notice should also be attached to the premises in a place where it can be seen and:
- set out where the goods are being kept;
- state when and where the sale will take place, if the goods are to be sold;
- state that any sale and storage costs will be retained from the sale proceeds; and
- attach a schedule of the goods that remain on the premises.
If all reasonable steps have been taken to contact the former tenant and still the former tenant has failed to get in touch, it is more reasonable to assume the goods have been abandoned and a landlord is free to dispose of them. If the goods are reclaimed, a landlord should get written confirmation from the person collecting them that they are the true owner of the goods.
Prior to disposing of the belongings, on a practical level to ensure that the Court deems any action taken reasonable, a landlord should:
- Make contact with the owner of the chattels as soon as possession is taken back - using as many different methods as possible and keep records (email, notice on the front door, letter, phone call etc.).
- Give a reasonable period of time to collect items (larger/heavier items might take more time to collect).
- Document all actions taken (via photos and video record of the items).
- Ensure that any sale is for a proper price and is fully documented.
- If the items are claimed - obtain evidence of ownership and the identity of the person claiming them (especially if it is not the tenant).
- If the chattels are sold, return the proceeds to the tenant. If a landlord is not able to make contact, retain the sale proceeds for at least a month (and potentially more depending on the circumstances).
This article is provided by Burlingtons for general information only. It is not intended to be and cannot be relied upon as legal advice or otherwise. If you would like to discuss any of the matters covered in this article, please contact Caroline Turner or write to us using the contact form below.