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by Ben Luxon June 18, 2019 6 min read

A tenant may leave behind any number of items for any number of reasons. There is one universal truth though when they do this - it’s annoying.

Whether they want it or not, any property that the tenant leaves behind at your property is legally still theirs and needs to be returned to them.

If you throw it away, then you could end up subject to a claim from the tenant for damages.

So, what do you do? The answer is, unfortunately, time consuming and irritating process.

The Law

The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 is what governs this particular situation. It is largely in favour of the tenants, stipulating that landlords are required to make reasonable efforts to contact the tenant in order for them to return their possessions. Until such a time as the tenant has been either tracked down and notified or you can prove that you have undergone a strenuous effort to find the tenant then as the landlord we are under a legal obligation to take the best of care of our tenant's unwanted belongings.

This for obvious reasons can be troublesome. Normally a tenant moves out and we need to pre[p the rental for the next tenant. Hopefully, they will be moving in soon, or we will need to show the property now it’s empty. Either way, a horde of the previous tenant's belongings ain’t gonna be too well received.

So yeah, problems are all the landlords here. You can't sell or dispose of it until we receive confirmation from the tenant.

It wouldn’t surprise me if some tenants leave their useless shit behind as part of a deliberate scam, just so they can seek compensation when an unsuspecting landlord decides to dispose of the junk without confirmation. On that basis, I’d be very careful about disposing of any items without following the proper procedure.

What to do if your Tenant Leaves Stuff Behind

The Process

#1 Notify

Step one is to find the tenant, contact them and determine whether or not you are allowed to dispose of the belongings or if the tenant wants to collect them.

In many cases, this is resolved with a simple phone conversation or text message.

The tenant will either agree to come and collect their belongings - or they will give you the go-ahead to dispose of them.

However, it’s not always so simple. Often landlords don’t have a forwarding address or even a valid phone number or email.

If the tenant is unresponsive to the messages that you send, or they are just being difficult you may need to serve them with a written notice. This should be delivered by a recorded and signed for delivery service so that you have proof of receipt.

It should state the following:

  • Intention of Disposal: You are obliged to give a reasonable period of notice - usually 21 days.
  • Instructions for Collection: You should give clear instructions as to how the tenant can collect their belongings if they so desire.
  • Intention of Sale:If there are any possessions of value you can state that you have intentions of selling if they don’t collect their belongings before the notice period is up.

In this case, all the proceeds belong to the tenant (up until six years after the sale), but any costs incurred such as storage, removal and sale are deductible.

Be warned, the law expects the landlord to obtain the best price they can for the items. Ridiculous, right? We essentially become their personal pawn shop. The tenants get a sweet deal.

#2 Track Down Wayward Tenants

You need to make what is deemed as reasonable efforts to track down any wayward tenants, and you need to be able to prove it. Until you have done this you won’t be allowed to dispose of their possessions.

A possible solution is to use a tracing agent.

‘Tracing agents’ offer “no-find, no-fee” arrangements, that might be your best option in this case. Mcatracing.co.uk fees start from £35.

Again, this could be deducted from any proceeds made from the sale of the items and anything of value must be sold at a good value.

#3 Notice of Sale

If you do intend on selling some of the items left behind you have to do so responsibly and get a good price for the items sold. The money, minus any selling costs will then belong to the tenant.

This is covered under Part II of Schedule 1 of the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, which says the following:

(1)A notice under section 12(3) shall—

(a)specify the name and address of the bailee, and give sufficient particulars of the goods and the address or place where they are held, and

(b)specify the date on or after which the bailee proposes to sell the goods, and

(c)specify the amount, if any, which is payable by the bailor to the bailee in respect of the goods, and which became due before the giving of the notice.

(2)The period between giving of the notice and the date specified in the notice as that on or after which the bailee proposes to exercise the power of sale shall be such as will afford the bailor a reasonable opportunity of taking delivery of the goods.

(3)If any amount is payable in respect of the goods by the bailor to the bailee, and become due before giving of the notice, the said period shall be not less than three months.

(4)The notice shall be in writing and shall be sent by post in a registered letter, or by the recorded delivery service.

(‘Bailee’ is the person that temporarily gains possession, but not ownership)

You may have picked out the clause (as we did) that the tenant needs to be given at least 3 months notice before you sell. Meaning you could be stuck storing their belongings for a minimum of 90 days.

Using Deposit to Cover Storage

You wouldn’t usually return the deposit until after the final inspection which gives you a little bit of leverage.

Generally, deposits will be used to cover cleaning costs at the end of the tenancy as well as repairing any damages. It wouldn’t be unreasonable then to also count storage costs.

However, it’s worth noting, that since deposits are protected by a deposit scheme it will be up to their internal resolution service should the tenant decide to dispute the costs. To be safe, make sure you have a well-documented inventory as well as the usual imagery to support.

Using Sale of Items to Cover Rent Arrears

As tempting as this may be, and it really is tempting to take what is owed. It’s probably not a great idea.

If your tenant owes rent, it should be treated as a completely separate issue from abandoned possessions. The correct way to recover the arrears is through the county court in possession proceedings or as a separate action for a money judgement.

What to do if your Tenant Leaves Stuff Behind

Final Words

Prevention is the best remedy. The first thing to do is always to determine if your tenants are going to be any good. Check their references. Good tenants will return the property in the same state that they found it.

The next thing is to have a strong tenancy agreement. Most standard Tenancy Agreements cover the situation where tenants leave behind their possessions- so make sure yours has sensible clauses to help minimize spiralling problems. For example, a clause could reduce the required 3 month notice period to sell the tenant’s possessions, to 14 days for example.

You may also want to get alternative contact details off your tenants at the beginning of the lease - or the contact details of their next of kin which will help you track them down if they do end up ditching their belongings at your property.

The final note we will suggest is to always do a thorough walk-through inspection before and after each tenant - before returning the deposit. Make sure everything is documented properly with visual evidence - you can’t have too many pictures.

We hope you found this blog interesting! However, do note that it should not be used as a substitute for competent legal and/or other advice from a licensed professional.

Ben Luxon

"Ben is an author and real estate enthusiast. His interest in all things entrepreneurial has led him to work with real estate professionals all over the world, distilling their knowledge into articles and Ebooks. His love of travelling has taken him to over 10 countries in the last year, where he has sampled the craft beer of them all."


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