When a tenant leaves a rental property, they are required to take all their possessions with them – but unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. So what can you, the landlord, do if you find yourself lumbered with possessions that aren’t yours? Here’s the lowdown on your rights and responsibilities in this tricky situation.
1. Don’t get rid of them
Unfortunately, you can’t just get rid of the items right away – you have now become an ‘involuntary bailee’, which means you have certain legal responsibilities to look after the items under the Torts Interference with Goods Act 1977. You should never just sell the items or throw them away (even if you think they’re worthless), because if the tenant comes back for them later, you could be at fault and they could take you to court. Instead, the first thing you should do is put the items somewhere safe (especially if they could cause a hazard, for example by blocking a fire escape) and take a detailed inventory, with photographs, of everything you have.
2. Contact the tenant
Next, you should take reasonable steps to contact the tenant who left the items behind. Hopefully you will have contact details for them (e.g. their new address, or an email address), and you should tell them that they need to come and collect their items, or you can get confirmation in writing that they have abandoned the possessions and that they give you permission to dispose of them. Make sure you tell the tenants exactly what you have – you could send them the inventory you’ve made.
If you have made a reasonable attempt to contact the tenant (which will probably mean more than one email, phone call or letter), but you do not hear back from them right away, you are expected to wait a ‘reasonable’ length of time before taking further action. There isn’t a clear legal definition of exactly how long this should be, but typically the more valuable the items, the longer you may be expected to wait. You could include a time limit on all your communications, telling the tenant that they need to collect their possessions within 3 weeks, or that you intend to start selling/disposing of them in 28 days – but again these limits should give the tenant plenty of time to respond.
4. Take legal action
If enough time has passed and you have still not heard from the tenant, you might consider taking legal action, such as issuing an S12 notice or seeking an S13 court order. You should get professional legal advice if you decide to go down this route, because there are no clear-cut rules and only a legal professional can properly advise you.
Of course, it’s much easier to protect yourself from this kind of headache before it happens. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to put a clause in your rental contract about goods left behind by the tenant at the end of the tenancy. This could include a time limit for removing the goods, and details about what you will do with anything that’s left behind. Having this built into a contract signed by both parties should mean you avoid the legal issues surrounding tenants’ possessions in future!
If you’re a landlord with a property to rent in Bristol, we can help you find your next tenants. Contact Gough Quarters today to find out more.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is not intended as legal advice. Please consult with a professional before taking any action.
Cover photo by v2osk on Unsplash.