Residential landlords: what to do with items left in a property
Whilst it is generally the case that outgoing tenants take most of their belongings with them when they leave a property, there are often instances, particularly following evictions, where they might leave items behind but do not leave a forwarding or contact address.
I am often asked whether the landlord can simply dispose of the items, or whether the landlord actually has to look after them – even if it incurs further cost. The latter may well be a bitter pill to swallow given an evicted tenant is likely to have left without paying rent, and potentially having racked up additional legal costs too.
Whilst not usually one for quoting legislation at clients, the key piece of legislation to consider here is the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, and particularly section 12 which addresses abandoned items.
For the avoidance of doubt, the items left behind will remain the property of the tenant, and the landlord actually has to take care of the goods whilst making reasonable attempts to contact the tenant.
Whilst most items left behind may be reasonably worthless (as clearly the tenant would usually remove them otherwise) the landlord is entitled to sell or dispose of the items if he cannot trace the tenant. This is provided he gives proper notice and has taken reasonable steps to trace the tenant.
Whilst there isn’t a set notice period to be able to dispose of the items, the landlord does need to give the tenant a reasonable opportunity to take delivery of them. Further, if the landlord does want to demand costs for storage and sale of the items, then the legislation states a 3 month notice period.
The landlord is entitled to deduct from the sale proceeds the costs incurred, such as sale costs, transport costs and storage etc.
The form of the notice is prescribed in the legislation, and should:
- Specify the name and address of the tenant, and set out what the items are, and where they are held;
- State that the items can be collected by the tenant (or delivered);
- State the place of sale and a date following which they will be sold;
- State what costs will be deducted from the proceeds;
- be sent by registered post or recorded delivery;
- and attached to the property so it is visible.
Whilst some landlords choose to deal with residential rent recovery and evictions themselves, it remains a complex area of law, with plenty of pitfalls to be avoided.
If you are a lettings agent, or residential landlord with problem tenants, speak to the litigation solicitors at Ironmonger Curtis in Sheffield to learn about what fixed fee legal services we have available to assist you. Our dispute resolution lawyers also have experience in a wide range of other relevant property litigation and can be contacted on 0845 225 2635 or via our website.
Ben Ironmonger is a commercial litigation solicitor at Ironmonger Curtis in Sheffield.