Tenants are usually obliged to remove all of their possessions from the property when they move out. However it is a common occurrence for some items to be left behind. It may occur that tenants leave some of their belongings behind when moving out of the property. This may be a simple oversight on a stressful and rushed move out day. They may also have left items they no longer wanted or were too difficult to move. So you are left with leftover tenant possessions, but what do you do about it?
Although this may be common, it is still often mishandled and misunderstood by both parties.
The Tenancy agreement may state the course of action which will be taken if any possessions are left behind.
What to do – Landlords
It may seem appealing to simply immediately discard or sell any leftover possessions, especially if you are on a deadline to prepare the property for the next tenant or clearing the property for sale, redecoration or development. It may also seem advisable to do so if the tenant has outstanding rent payments. However this should not be done, even if the possessions appear to hold little to no value. It is unlikely any high value items will be left behind.
Section 12 Notice
The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 governs what you can or can’t do. The possession still legally belong to the tenant. The act states that you must make reasonable attempts to contact the tenant before disposing of the items. This is best done with a letter, stating what was left behind and where it is stored, along with what will be done with them unless they are collected by a certain date.
This is called a section 12 notice and must contain the following
- your name and address so that the tenant can contact you;
- a description and schedule of the goods and details of where they are being stored;
- specification of a reasonable period in which the tenant must collect their goods (not less than 21 days);
- statement of what you intend to do with the goods should the tenant fail to collect them;
- if there is an intention to sell them, state where and when the sale will take place;
- confirmation that any storage or sale costs will be retained from the proceeds of sale.
You may charge a small fee for the clearing of the property and storage of the belongings.
This date for collection of possessions must give the tenant reasonable time to do so, a period of 28 days is common and would be reasonable. However if the tenant owes rent, these items must be kept for at least three months before the issuing of this letter. After this date has elapsed, you are free to either dispose of sell the items.
Dispose or Sell?
If the goods are of low value, it would make more sense to simply dispose of what is left behind. This removes any extra, time consuming tasks associated with selling the items especially during a busy period in the letting process.
In some cases it may be advisable to sell the items, such as if you are owed money by the tenant for rent. Technically after selling the items, the money still belongs to the tenant, but you can deduct any costs associated with the sale of the goods, and any money owed due to rent arrears. If the final sale value is greater than this the remaining balance must be paid to the tenant.
While at first thought it may appear reasonable to immediately discard or sell any left behind possessions, it must be done following proper procedure. If this is not adhered to, the tenant may choose to bring a claim against the landlord. These can be costly and time consuming to defend. Although such claim would be limited to the possessions’ resale value, rather than the cost of buying the items new. If the claim is brought, the landlord may be able to offset this against rent arrears or damages. It is important to follow official protocol with leftover tenant possessions to avoid any problems with the tenant.
It would still benefit the landlord to avoid these proceedings, which can be done by following the legal protocol.
Coodes Solicitors. 2018. Accessed 5th December, 2019, from https://coodes.co.uk/blog/what-should-a-landlord-do-if-a-tenant-leaves-possessions-behind/
Make Ur Move. 2019. Accessed 5th December, 2019, from https://www.makeurmove.co.uk/article/2146/Leftover_possessions_after_moving_out_Tenants_and_landlords_rights_and_obligation#sthash.amUIfpxI.dpbs
Helix Law. Accessed 5th December, 2019, from https://helix-law.co.uk/property-law-blogs/what-can-i-do-if-my-tenant-leaves-belongings-at-the-property-after-the-tenancy-has-been-terminated/