It sometimes happens that tenants leave possessions behind when they leave a rental. This could be an oversight in the organised chaos of moving day. Or it may be that the tenant simply abandoned some personal possessions they didn't want. Or possibly couldn't move. A less common occurrence is a tenant leaves the property and their possessions because they're behind with the rent.
But, whatever the reasons or circumstances, all the above scenarios leave the tenant without their possessions. And the landlord with a headache about what to do with the goods.
What happens if a tenant leaves things behind?
Although it may be frustrating for landlords they cannot simply dispose of a tenant's possessions. The tenant may have left them by mistake. But even if it's obvious the tenant has abandoned the property the landlord must still keep everything. If a landlord disposes of goods without permission, they may have to pay compensation to the tenant. Even if the tenant left the property owing rent.
What do if possessions are left behind
Let's look at this from two perspectives. That of the landlord and the tenant.
If you realise you've left things behind you should immediately contact the landlord. The landlord should have retrieved and stored everything you left. The landlord may charge a reasonable fee for clearing the property and storing your goods. However, you should make sure you make contact as soon as you realise you've left anything behind. As we'll explain below the landlord is only required to store your items for a 'reasonable' length of time.
However, tempting it may be if a tenant leaves things behind you can't just throw them in a skip. Even if you think it’s only worthless junk. Neither can you immediately sell anything even if the tenant left owing rent.
The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 governs what you can or can't do. In a nutshell this demands you make reasonable attempts to contact your tenant before disposing of the items. You should send a registered letter noting the items you have retrieved and where they're stored. You should also state you intend to sell or dispose of the goods unless they're collected by a certain date.
This date must be a 'reasonable' (that word again) one which gives the tenant adequate time to retrieve the items. Two to three weeks would fit the bill. But if the tenant owes you money (rent) before you issue that letter you have to keep the items for a minimum of three months.
If you've made every effort to trace your tenant (and can prove you have done so) but haven't been able to you can dispose of or sell the items left behind.
Disposal or sell?
In many instances any possessions left will remain unclaimed by the tenant. But most will be of low value. It's highly unlikely any tenant will leave behind valuables or high-value items. This is why in most cases it will be more practical for a landlord to dispose of the items rather than going through the hassle and expense of selling them. But, in some cases it may make sense to sell the items. Especially if the landlord is owed money by the tenant.
What happens if the landlord eventually sells left behind possessions?
Any money raised technically belongs to the tenant. However, any costs associated with the sale or rent arrears can be deducted. But the balance must be returned to the tenant.
The rules have changed. How much can a landlord ask a tenant to pay as a security deposit? Use our free calculator to find out.