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What duty does a Landlord have if the tenant leaves their belongings in the property once they have vacated?

The above question is one which we get frequently asked by agents on the PainSmith helpline. It is often the case that tenants will vacate a property and leave their personal possessions behind which can pose a real problem for landlords.

The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 requires a landlord to take care of the tenant’s possessions and states that they have a duty to ensure that they undertake all reasonable efforts to trace the tenant to return their possessions. It is only when the tenant cannot be traced and a reasonable period of time has lapsed, can the landlord under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 sell the possessions. Part II of Schedule 1 states that the tenant should be given at least 3 months notice of the landlord’s intention to sell. However a clause in the tenancy agreement is enough to vary this 3 months to for example, 14 days.

Usually the landlord will hold a forwarding address for the tenant and so will be able to trace the tenant this way however if the tenants whereabouts are unknown then reasonable steps should be taken to trace the tenant including placing an advertisement in the local newspaper and notices on local community boards.

If the landlord manages to trace the tenant the Act goes on to state that a written notice must be served by the landlord on the tenant stating their intention to dispose of the possessions, how to arrange collection and that disposal of the possessions will occur only once the notice has expired. The notice should go on to further state that if the possessions are not collected by the expiry of the notice then the possessions will be sold. If a landlord and tenant are in dispute as to the possessions (such as ownership) then the they cannot be sold until the dispute has been resolved. Where the possessions are sold without confirming who the actual owner of the possessions is, the landlord takes the risk of having the actual owner turning up at his door to make good on this sale without consent, which could mean paying double the actual value of the possessions.

When it comes to selling the possessions the landlord must account for all proceeds of sale, less any reasonable costs (such as storage) and should use the best method of sale which is usually by auction. Any proceeds left over will belong to the tenant up until six years after the sale.

It is often the case that some items that may have been abandoned by a tenant are of little or no value. If this is indeed the case then steps should be taken to determine that the possessions are of little value, for example a letter confirming this by the auctioneer before a landlord or agent on their behalf, disposes of them by any other means.

15 Comments

  • Peter Smith 23rd January 2012 at 10:20 am

    All this is typically unreal legislation when applied to tenancies. How on earth is a landlord expected to store bulky furniture, quite apart from the legal hurdles? The actual cost is loss of rent because another tenant cannot move in. Most tenants leaving stuff are normally in arrears anyway so the LL is going to be lumbered with yet more losses whatever he/she does.

    My guess is therefore that most LL’s faced with this dilemma simply get rid of the stuff and if necessary deny that it was left behind.

  • EarnshawKay-Khangura 23rd January 2012 at 1:06 pm

    What would be the implications of a tenant leaving their belongings (or part of) in the garden? Would the same apply as above?

  • Jamie 3rd February 2012 at 2:26 pm

    @Peter Smith.
    I would agree that this is one area where you sometimes have to assess the risk and take a commercial decision.

  • Jeremy 28th February 2012 at 3:53 am

    My car was towed away by a private company in the compound i have lived for over 4 year for ‘non-payment of 23 parking charge notices’ These notice was alleged to have been issued in the same land that am a tenant of. Last month i received a letter informing me of that they will take ownership of the car after 3months. I have insisted that they return the car as i never entered into any contract with them… let alone in breach. So do they have any chance of taking ownership for real under Tort of (Interference…1977.)??? They are demanding over £3500 from me.

    • PainSmith 28th February 2012 at 3:37 pm

      Thank you for your question. Unfortunately we do not have enough information to fully answer your question. Obviously it would be useful to see your lease and or to understand the basis upon which any charges have been levied. To be able to tow away a car the Company must be licensed by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) and there should have been signage highlighting that this may happen and warning of the same. We would recommend you should report the removal of your car to the police. You should also indicate to the Company who has the car that you do not accept they are legally entitled to take your car or hold the same and then take some urgent advice as to your exact situation.

  • Itanbi 9th January 2013 at 2:50 pm

    the tenant left leaving their stuffs inside and outside my house. i gave them the 24 hrs notice before going in and inspecting the unit. i made list of them. am i responsible of looking after their stuffs (bicycle, chairs and tables) that they left outside as well? i am confused on what to do with all those stuffs as they just disappeared on me.

    • PainSmith 5th February 2013 at 6:38 pm

      If there is nothing in the agreement to say otherwise then you need to keep the goods for 3 months, after which you can dispose of and account to the former tenant. However look at the tenancy agreement – there may be a clause which allows you to dispose of the goods earlier. You would need to store the stuff left outside unless he left it off the premises ( e.g. bike chained to lamppost down the road).

  • Carl 10th May 2013 at 10:55 am

    I recently moved out of my rented propery and left some wardrobe doors outside the property to be picked up the following day so I could arrange transport. The landlord disposed of my doors (and charged me for disposing of them). What rights to I have to compensation?

  • heidi huddleston 17th May 2013 at 11:44 am

    i moved into my property 7 months ago and the previous tenants had left behind 4 unregistered vehicles the owners promised to dispose of these but to this day have not done anything about it , am i able to get rid of these vehicles at my own expense to make the property safe for my children to play in ?

  • tom 23rd July 2013 at 10:12 pm

    My tenant has left the property owing me in excess of £1000.00 and ignore my emails and phone calls. Ill never get the money back and am now struggling. Why should I store his rubbish?

  • Rob Johns 16th September 2013 at 7:20 am

    I am a lodger in dispute with my landlord after he reduced the services available to me but still wants full rent. He reduced what I get for the money and will not discuss anything.Whilst I was out he changed the locks and has stated that he will not let me have my possessions until I pay him the full rent. I suspect that he breaches this Act here. Am I correct?

  • BillyRae 3rd October 2013 at 1:29 pm

    If a tenant moves of following a 5 day notice period at the end of an assured shorthold tenancy and left a fridge freezer in the property, then the day after the LL paid £50 for its removal is the tenant liable for the costs or has the LL acted unlawful by removing the item without consent?

  • james 8th October 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Anyone know what I can do about my stepdaughter, she has for the third time, moved in NOT AS A TENNANT, agreed to pay us money to cover her food lifts loans etc and yet again just done a bunk owing us a fortune, she even texted to say see would pay us back or it would be “robbing us” and has now told her mother to get $%^^(rude word) she’s just abandoned her things I want to give them to charity to teach her a lesson, what can I do? Her stuff is just filling up my home office that I desperately need.

  • Rob 24th December 2013 at 10:32 am

    A tenant has left his bike and law mower in our shed and we need it removed. We have contacted them to request them to remove it (by text and through the estate agents) but they haven’t responded. What is my right? Can I leave it in the garden? I need the space in my shed to store our stuff.

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