My tenant has left lots of their stuff behind
My tenant has left lots of their stuff behind – help!
Tenants leaving a pile of their possessions behind after vacating a landlord’s property is a common problem.
And it is a situation fraught with pitfalls for the landlord.
It is not a simple (but nonetheless inconvenient) case of collecting-up all the ‘junk’ for disposal prior to your new tenants taking possession.
This is because that ‘junk’ doesn’t belong to you. Any possessions left at the property still belong to the tenant and are protected by the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977.
Unfortunately for you, this means you have a legal duty to take reasonable care of the goods until they are either returned to their owner or disposed of legitimately.
If you sell or dispose of the items without taking the correct steps, then the tenant could advance a civil claim against you.
Put it this way, although it’s unlikely, that ugly old cabinet left in the lounge could actually be a valuable antique. That dusty old suitcase of clothes left in the attic, a trove of period fashionwear that would be coveted by a museum.
In the case of Cashmere v. Walsh, Downing and Veale the tenant was awarded £6,515 for the landlord failing to return the tenants possessions. Legal action against you is always a time consuming hassle and a potentially costly risk to be avoided for sure.
How can I avoid this situation from happening in the first place?
Tip 1. Careful selection of tenants
As we have recommended many times before, the prudent landlord should be selective about who they let their properties to. They will be armed with the gut feel of having conducted their own viewings with that gut feel confirmed by comprehensive tenant referencing.
Tip 2. Professional inventory with managed check-in and check-out
A professionally compiled inventory fully ratified by a managed check-in will ensure that the premium brand washing machine you provided has not been substituted for something that looks like it was salvaged from a fly tipping site.
Even with these precautions in place, people can be hard to predict. A managed check-out that covers favourite dumping grounds like the loft could nip this situation in the bud with the clerk asking there and then what the tenant intends to do about any remaining possessions not listed in the inventory.
Tip 3. Tenancy agreement clauses
You can add to your tenancy agreements a clause to reduce the required three month notice to sell the tenant’s possession to a shorter, although still fair and therefore enforceable period of time of say 28 days. We recommend your bespoke tenancy agreements are drafted by a legal professional to ensure they are compliant with the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999.
So what are the correct steps for dealing with a tenant’s left behind items?
Step 1: Notifying the tenant
At this point, we hope you have contact details and a forwarding address for the tenant. If you don’t, you may be able to track them down via their guarantor if they had one.
The method of last resort is paying a tracing agency like our Intelligent Partners – Debt Squared Group here to locate them.
With luck, the tenant will agree to collect their possessions or at least give you permission to dispose of the items thereby designating their junk as ‘abandoned’.
However, if they are non-responsive or being difficult you will need to serve them a written notice sent via recorded delivery.
Your notice must state:
- That you intend to dispose of, or sell their possessions if they are not collected within a reasonable period of notice, commonly 28 days
- Instructions on how the tenant can arrange collection from you
It’s important to keep records of any correspondence.
Step 2: Removing the possessions to a place of storage
The law stipulates that you are required to make reasonable efforts to contact the tenant in order for them to return their possessions. Until then, you are under a legal obligation to take care of the items. Even if you rightly believe those items to be junk that the tenant no longer wants.
If you have new tenants soon to be moving in, or you want to take possession of the property for yourself, you may have to carefully remove the previous tenant’s items to an alternative location for storage whilst you await their response.
Step 3: Selling the tenant’s items
After the period of notice elapses, you can sell any items of value to help pay for the costs you’ve incurred for storage, removal (and sale).
However, it should be remembered that all the remaining proceeds belong to the tenant for up until six years after the sale.
The law also expects you to obtain the best price you can for the items. So even in this situation, the whole process is a big inconvenience for landlords to say the least.
For more information on the governing law, see Section 12 of the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1977/32
Can I use the tenant’s deposit to cover the costs of storage and removal?
You should be able to claim any incurred costs of storage and removal from the tenant’s deposit.
However, as your tenant’s deposit should be protected by one of the Government approved deposit schemes, it will be up to their arbitration to make the final ruling if the tenant objects to the costs.
In these circumstances, a professionally compiled inventory should prove its worth by showing the condition of the property before and after the tenancy by way of photographic evidence and a schedule of items.
My tenant has left lots of their stuff behind – help!
Tenants leaving a pile of their possessions behind after vacating your property is a major hassle.
This is because the law protects these items, no matter how worthless they may seem for a period of up to three months.
But if you get an inventory professionally compiled and ratified through both managed check-ins and check-outs, you can be armed with the evidence you need to make a claim against the tenant’s deposit for removal and storage of said items or even quickly nip the problem in the bud.
Whatever you do, do not simply collect-up the junk and dispose of it to make way for your new tenants. Follow the correct process and save yourself further costs, hassle and risk.