Obtaining possession of your property, whether it’s for rent arrears, or just because the term has ended, can be a very lengthy and stressful experience, and no doubt you want to clean the property up so that you can re-let or even sell as soon as possible. However, what do you do if the tenant leaves items in the property when they have left, such as personal belongings or furniture?
It is extremely important that you deal with this correctly, because if you do not, and if you have disposed of the tenant’s belongings unlawfully; you could be on the end of a civil claim should the tenant contact you for their goods to be returned. In law the landlord has become what is known as an involuntary bailee and will owe the tenant a duty of care in respect of the goods.
The first port of call when dealing with this is to look at the lease or tenancy agreement. If the agreement authorises you to deal with their belongings, then you don’t have to refer to the legislation on bailment (below).
If the tenancy agreement authorises you to deal with the tenant’s belongings that have been left behind you must ensure that you act in accordance with what is permitted by the agreement. For example, the tenancy agreement may contain a clause that states that any personal effects left at the property for more than 14 days after the tenancy has ended will be considered abandoned you may then remove, store or dispose of any such items as you see fit.
If there is no such clause within the tenancy agreement dealing with goods left at the property, the law relating to bailment under the Torts (interference with Goods) Act 1977 will apply.
The following are the rules on bailment which must be followed in circumstances where there is no such clause is in the tenancy agreement:
When a former tenant leaves goods at the premises, you become an involuntary bailee of the goods and could potentially be liable in conversion, if you sell the goods and offset them against arrears, or liable for damages if you dispose of the goods. You cannot use the money from the sale of the goods to offset against what you are owed.
To deal with this, you need to serve a notice giving the former tenant (and/or any third party owners) reasonable notice to collect the goods, failing which, you will then be entitled to sell any of the goods in a saleable condition and offset the costs of sale against the proceeds, returning the balance of the sale proceeds to the former tenants.
If the goods are not in a saleable condition and the former tenant does not collect them, then you will have to decide how to proceed, which may mean disposal of the goods. If you decide to do this, you should take a full inventory (written and photographic) of all of the goods disposed of in order to attempt to minimise the risk of future damages claims made by the former tenant (or third party owners). You should also keep the trace report or other evidence of the tenant’s current address to which you sent the notice.
A notice given to the former tenant, needs to be in writing, and may be given either by delivering it to them by hand, leaving it at the address, or sending by post. Hand delivery would be the preferred method of delivery, and it would also be a good idea to make a note of what date and time you hand delivered the letter, should issues arise later.
You can either impose an obligation on the former tenant to take delivery of the goods or having given intention to sell, you can sell them. However, if you sell the goods, you need to sell them for the best price you can, and account to the former tenant for any profit.
If you want to deliver the goods, the notice needs to contain the following:
Your name and address and particulars of the goods and the address or place where they are held
State that the goods are ready for delivery to the former tenant
Specify the costs of delivery and any sum that is payable by the former tenant in respect of the goods and which became due before the notice (this relates to storage costs etc- not any other debt already owed to you by the tenant.
If you want to sell the goods, the notice shall:
Specify your name and address and give sufficient particulars of the goods and where they are held
Specify the date on or after which you propose to sell the goods, and
Specify the amount, if any, which is payable by to you in respect of the goods for storage and costs of disposal.
The period between giving notice, and selling the goods give the tenant a reasonable opportunity of taking delivery of the goods.
This needs to be handled with care to avoid what could be inflated claims for the value of goods that are disposed of unlawfully which can be costly, time consuming and stressful.
If anyone has any queries in relation to obtaining possession of a residential property, or requires advice on any tenants goods left at a property, please do not hesitate to contact John French or Kristy Ainge on 024 7663 2121.