Has a tenant vacated your property but failed to take all of their property? If so you become an involuntary Bailee of these goods and if you simply dispose of them the tenant could make a claim against you for damages.
In reality it is unlikely that tenants are going to leave behind anything of value but it is important that you are aware of your obligations as an involuntary Bailee of your tenant’s goods and the implications of merely disposing of them without warning.
Clearing out the property
Any property that the tenant leaves behind still belongs to the tenant and efforts should be made to return them to the tenant or obtain written confirmation from them that you may dispose of the goods. If you do not do this and you dispose of goods belonging to the tenant which subsequently turn out to be of value, you may be subject to a claim from the tenant for damages. If the tenant does leave things behind when they leave, you may charge for the cost of clearing them out of your property once you have carried out the required procedure.
The Legal bit
The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 states that the landlord can dispose of goods left behind – as long as you follow a certain procedure.
Firstly, you need to send a letter by post and by recorded delivery to the tenant stating that you intend to sell/dispose of the goods and give the following information:
- Your name and address (where you can be contacted regarding the tenant’s collection)
- Details of the items held
- The place where they’re held
- The date on which you intend to sell or dispose of the goods (this must give the tenant a reasonable amount of time to collect the goods, say two-four weeks)
You must make sure you keep a copy of this letter. If it has been agreed between you and the tenant that communication regarding the tenancy may be carried out by email, it may be sufficient for you to email the information above to the tenant but this has not yet been tested in court. Our advice is to send the notice to every address and email address that you have for the ex-tenant’s and also to send it by text message if this is possible. If you have an employer’s address also send the notice to that address marked “private and confidential”. It may also pay you to send it to the property address as the tenant may have a mail re direct in place.
If you know the tenants forwarding address and you are concerned that the tenant will refuse to accept the posted letter or recorded delivery, consider hand delivering the letter so they cannot claim that they did not receive it.
What if you have no forwarding address for the tenant?
If you do not have a forwarding – or indeed any other address for the tenant- you will still be able to sell or dispose of the goods if you’re able to show that you have made reasonable attempts to locate them. This is best done by instructing tracing agents. Many will offer a ‘no-trace-no-fee’ arrangement. Providing you keep the tracing agent’s report stating that they are unable to locate the tenant, you should be safe from a claim for damages from the tenant if you dispose of goods left behind.
Want to sell the goods?
If any items are sold, the proceedings of sale are, strictly speaking, the property of the tenant. However you are entitled to deduct the cost of the sale, any rent arrears outstanding or other money due to you from any monies you realise from the sale.
If you intend to purely dispose of the tenant’s goods, The Interference with Goods Act states that you must allow a period of time that shall be such as will afford the bailor (tenant) a reasonable opportunity of taking delivery of the goods. The use of the term “ reasonable” is subjective and what may seem reasonable to a landlord wishing to clear his property for re let is not necessarily reasonable to a departing tenant trying find alternative accommodation to reside in. We recommend that you keep the goods for a minimum of 2 weeks and ideally 4 weeks unless you intend to seek payment from the tenant for their return in which case see below. If it is your intention to demand payment for the return of the goods then you must hold them for a period of not less than three months.
Of course you may just take the view that the tenant has left a load of junk and dispose of it immediately but if you do so please bear in mind that you are leaving yourself open to a claim for damages and – as the saying goes – one mans’ junk is another mans’ treasure trove so there could be something of real value amongst it. Additionally there may be personal papers/photographs amongst them which are irreplaceable. If you suspect this is the case then you should investigate whether you have anywhere that you can store valuables/personal papers etc. in a garage or a cupboard in the office and allow the tenant the maximum time of three months in which to collect them.
If you require any further information regarding this subject please telephone Northwood Legal Services on 01329 820420.