What to do when a tenant leaves belongings behind

It’s a common problem for tenants to leave belongings behind when their tenancy has ended. Unfortunately, there is no way of sugarcoating the fact that, as landlord, it is your responsibility to deal with the problem professionally. It is especially frustrating when new tenants are ready to move into the property. But stay calm, follow the correct procedure and act within the law.

Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977

It is illegal to immediately sell or dispose of the tenant’s goods. It was once within the law to do so, but that has not been the case since 1977. Taking ‘an eye for an eye’ in this situation will tarnish your reputation if the issue goes to court, so do not sell or dispose of the tenant’s goods without following the procedure described below.

The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act is not a convenient law for landlords, but it does outline the actions to take that will absolve you of liability if you are to discard or sell the abandoned belongings:

  1. Send a letter to the tenant by recorded delivery, making clear you intend to sell or dispose of the items
  2. Provide the exact date on which you intend to sell or dispose of the items; this must provide the tenant reasonable time to collect the items (usually 21 days)
  3. Provide your name, contact details, and your preferred method of contact
  4. Provide an item inventory and the items’ approximate location (landlord’s premises; storage facility, etc.)

Keep a copy of the letter and a record of any correspondence concerning the matter. Email is certainly the best method of keeping a neat correspondence log.

What to do when a tenant leaves belongings behind

Use photos for inventory purposes

If a tenant takes the issue to court, a photographic inventory will work in your favour. Take photographs of the goods in situ and, if possible, take photos of individual items. Use a digital camera with a clear time-stamping feature, as this will provide evidence of the state and repair of the items. Photographs also provide grounds for disposing of items that are perishable or unhygienic. It is reasonable, for example, to discard food and dirty laundry items.

Safely store the belongings

Treat the remaining items with due care. The best solution is to store them with a professional company in a facility that is insured and secure against damages and theft. Here at Chappell’s we provide free quotes for storage, so unwanted items could be out of your hair sooner than you think.

Make every effort to contact the tenant

If you do not have alternative contact details or a forwarding address, Tracing Agents can complete a search within 24 hours and the fee can be recouped from the tenant’s deposit. No-find, no-fee services cost around £30.00 and come with a receipt. This is important because the receipt is evidence of the fact that all attempts have been made to contact the tenant.

If the Tracing Agent cannot locate your tenant, you are eligible to sell or dispose of the goods. Any proceeds from sale remain the tenant’s; however, this sum reverts to the landlord after six years.

Avoiding the problem in future

Prevention is the best cure. Before the problem arises, take steps to minimise the risk of it happening in the first place.

  1. Have the tenant provide alternative contact details of relatives or friends who can be contacted in the event of abandoned goods.
  2. Insert a clause in the tenancy agreement that is fair to both parties; your solicitor can help with the wording to make it clear that the tenant will: be contacted if possible; and be given at least 21 days before the items are discarded or sold – in accordance with the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977.

It is relatively common to find possessions abandoned in a rented property. When it does happen, be rational and follow the procedure described above. If you take steps to avoid litigation, you will be in the best position to deal with the problem and continue to be a fair and reputable landlord. Most of the time, actions tend towards discarding the goods because they are of little value. However, on the rare occasion that items of value are left behind (anything that is feasibly salable) the correct procedure becomes emphatically important to follow.

Chappell’s Removals have over 40 years’ industry experience, carrying out commercial and domestic moves across Weybridge, Woking, and the Surrey area. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, we can provide the perfect storage solution for tenant belongings awaiting collection. Our fully uniformed staff can provide packing and preparation services before transporting items to our comprehensive storage facilities that are accessible upon request for your convenience. For more information about our services, get in touch with Chappell’s Removals today.

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