As a landlord, once you have taken back possession your priority will be to freshen the place up, if necessary and secure a new tenant as soon as possible.  But what are you to do with belongings that remain in the property which the tenant hasn’t taken nor made arrangements to collect?

The law

As a landlord you are under a legal obligation to take care of the tenant’s possessions whilst they remain in your control in particular the law in this area dictates that landlords are required to make ‘reasonable efforts’ to contact the tenant in order for the possessions to be returned to them.

This can often be difficult and extremely problematic.  You may be faced with a tenant who is avoiding engaging with you or one that you cannot locate. However, an unsuspecting landlord should not simply proceed with disposing of the tenant’s belongings even if they look worthless. 

So what steps can you take:

  • Notifying the tenant – as a landlord you may have a forwarding address, telephone number or e-mail address for the tenant.  In this case it may be easy to resolve the situation by sending a quick e-mail or text message asking the tenant to arrange a date for collection of their possessions. You should keep a record of the letters and/or messages sent in order that you able to evidence the steps you have taken to seek to return the belongings to the tenant.  When writing to the tenant you should give instructions on how the tenant can arrange collection with you.  You should also expressly state in the absence of collection of their belongings you will dispose of their goods after a reasonable period of time namely, 21 days.  If the tenant engages with you, you should then make every effort to ensure that the belongings are safely returned to the former tenant within the timeframe agreed.
  • Tracing a tenant – often, the position where possession has been recovered is that landlords do not have a forwarding address or any means of contact for the former tenant.  In this case you are still required to take ‘all reasonable efforts’ in order to trace the tenant and return their belongings to them.  We can work with you in order to instruct tracing agents who offer a “no find no fee” arrangement. Once located we can write to a tenant advising them of instructions for collection and/or your intentions to dispose of the items in the event that they failed to collect and/or engage with you.

No joy

So what happens if the former tenant cannot be form, declines from collecting their belongings and/or fails to collect them.  Under Part II of Schedule 1 of the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 you may sell the items. Before doing so notice must be served and so you may be better served to wait a ‘reasonable time’, make every effort to engage with and locate the tenant (retaining evidence) of the same before disposing of the possessions.

If you do wish to sell the belongings the notice must:

  • Give sufficient details of the belongings left behind the address or place where those belongings are held;
  • Specify the date after which you intend to sell those goods;
  •  the amount if any that was payable to you in respect of the goods which became due before giving notice; and
  • specify the date on which you propose to seek to exercise your power of sale. 

Under the Act this period of time shall not be less than 3 months.  It can therefore be an onerous and costly task having to store a tenant’s possessions for this period of time however, the associated costs can be sought to be recovered from the former tenant. 

We would advise that if you intend to sell the former tenant’s possessions, any notice served is given in writing and by Recorded Delivery. 

As you will see it is not as straight forward as throwing everything out upon taking back possession of your property, you must not damage a tenant’s belongings and you must keep them safe for a reasonable time if they are left behind.  If a tenant doesn’t collect them they could be charged for storage, removal and disposal. However, for you the most important thing to note is that it is illegal for you to simply destroy it and sell those belongings without notice.

Our specialist team dealing with the private rented sector are available to discuss and assist should this situation arise.

About the author

Hardeep Birring-Bhandal Associate

Hardeep advises on a whole host of property disputes for a range of clients from residential landlords to corporate occupiers.