Clearing possessions from a property
It is quite common for departing tenants to leave a property without fully clearing their possessions from the property. A landlord who is keen to see a fast turnaround of his or her property may be tempted to take them to the tip, but it is important to realise that a landlord’s obligations, may extend to the tenant’s possessions.
Items left behind by a tenant remain that person’s property, so the landlord cannot simply dispose of them. The consequences of doing this will depend on whether the lease contains any determining provisions. The lease may detail a procedure for any left items, but any express provision contained in a Lease must be made with a careful eye to the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999 as well.
When a person is left holding someone else’s goods without their consent, and if the lease makes no reference to what provision should be made for these possessions, then, in legal terms, the one holding the goods becomes an involuntary bailee.
An involuntary bailee must not deliberately or recklessly damage or destroy the goods, and they must take care in trying to return the goods to confirm that the person receiving them is either the owner, or is authorised by the owner to receive them. Failure to comply with these duties will open you up to the risk of a claim for damages.
However, Under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, the landlord may serve notice before disposing of or selling the items. This notice will either impose an obligation upon the owner to collect the items, or it notifies the owner of an intention to sell if not collected by a set date within a reasonable timescale. Serving the former tenants with a notice will also assist in determining whether the goods have been deliberately abandoned.
In accordance with the Act, the notice must make clear:
- Where the goods are being kept
- If the goods are to be sold, when and where any sale will occur
- Sale and storage costs will be retained by the seller
- An inventory of the items at the property
Notice should be sent to the tenant at their new address, with a copy posted in a prominent place at the property they have vacated. If you cannot find the tenant, you must be able to show you have taken all reasonable steps to do so.
Posting a clear notice at the property is important, since a landlord is also obliged to establish whether the goods may be owned by a third party. A notice at the property will give any possible owners the chance to come forward.
If all reasonable steps to identify the owner and return the goods have been taken and have proved unsuccessful, it may be concluded that the possessions were abandoned by the tenant. In which case, the landlord will be entitled to sell the goods. However, the landlord should ensure that:
- A proper price is obtained
- They retain the money from the sale to return to the original owner if they come forward at any time in the future - a claim for damages may be brought up to 6 years later
The landlord may deduct costs, including the cost of sale, advertising costs, and any storage costs.
A landlord should be sure to document any action taken to use as evidence if a claim for damages or conversion is later brought against them. The evidence will assist in establishing a defence of abandonment.
For more information on temporary legislation protecting tenants during the Covid-19 pandemic, please read this article.