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21st April 2020

Q: How do I legally dispose of items left by my tenants?

A: At the end of many tenancies, items of furniture or personal belongings are left behind, but despite their abandonment, these items still legally belong to the tenant.  So how should you go about removing them?  Items left by your tenant still belong to them, regardless of whether a possession order was obtained by you, or the tenant surrendered the tenancy.  This is a recurring dilemma for landlords, who are conscious that the removal of belongings left by a tenant is unlawful.  If possible, photographs of the property and its contents should be taken and an estimate of the value of the goods left behind should also be recorded.

A decision should be taken based on what is left behind.  If the goods are disposed of by the landlord and subsequently turn out to be of value, the landlord may be subject to a claim for damages by the tenant.  The landlord becomes an ‘involuntary bailee’, having acquired goods left at the property which belong to another.  Landlords are required to take care of the tenant’s goods and make reasonable arrangements to trace the tenant so that their goods can be returned to them.  Under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, Landlords are permitted to dispose of goods left behind as long as the correct procedures are followed.

Notice should be served in accordance with Schedule 1 of the Act, requiring the tenant (or the true owner of the goods) to come and collect them.  The notice should be sent to the tenant if the address is known, and in any event attached to the property so that it can be clearly seen.

The notice will need to include the following information: where the goods are being kept; where sale of the items will take place; if items are sold, sale and storage costs will be deducted from the proceeds of sale; and list the goods that will remain.  Reasonable time to collect is all down to you, however we believe two weeks or more is sufficient.  If all reasonable steps have been taken to contact your former tenant and the notice has expired, you can dispose of the goods.  If the goods are sold, any proceeds of sale that remain – after deducting storage costs and debt owed to the landlord – must be returned to the former tenant.  If the correct steps are not taken, landlords may find themselves open to the former tenant bringing legal action against them (a civil action for damages for selling or using another person’s property).  This can be very costly and time consuming so it is important to ensure that the correct process is followed and evidence of doing so is carefully recorded.

For any further information or advice please contact us.

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