Dealing with stuff tenants leave behind

Tenants are always moving out and leaving stuff behind – from bags of rubbish and odd socks to sofas and sun beds.

The most likely belongings to find are those that are too heavy or unmanageable to stick in a car – and they are also the most expensive for landlords to clear away.

Landlords cannot just clear out a possessions a tenant abandons, they have to follow a strict legal procedure.

The process is covered by the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 and is the same whether the tenant does a flit leaving rent arrears or leaves at the end of a tenancy agreement.

Leaving the property does not let ownership of any belongings pass to a landlord.

For landlords with abandoned goods, here’s a guide of the steps to follow to comply with the law:

  • Try and track the tenant down through a forwarding address or other contact details, like an employer or guarantor. If the tenant has no forwarding address, send a letter to the tenant at the rental property – they may have mail forwarding.

 

  • Tell the tenant that the goods will be stored for three months before selling to raise cash to set off against unpaid rent or damage.

 

  • Make sure the notice has contact details so the tenant can get in touch

 

  • If no response is received after three months, sell or dispose of the belongings

 

  • If the proceeds from selling the property come to more than the tenant’s debt, then the landlord must keep the money for six years from the date of sale in the event of a claim.

 

  • Photograph the property – in situ in the house and then close up to show any damage should the tenant dispute the value.

 

  • Landlords can deduct the cost of storage and disposal from the proceeds – so keep any bills or receipts.

From a practical standpoint, if the tenant leaves cheap furniture behind that is easily replaceable, landlords can consider sending the items to the rubbish dump and paying for a replacement rather than footing a storage bill.

Any money received to set off against rent or damage is entered in to property business accounts as income, in the same way as rent. Extra proceeds do not have to be accounted for as the cash belongs to the tenant, in the same way as deposits.

At the end of six years, the money becomes property business income and is included in the accounts.

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