Landlord Blog: Finders Keepers?
In his latest blog, Head of GW LET (Landlord Empowerment Team) Rob Denman discusses the perils of tenants leaving behind their own items in the property after a tenancy has ended.
Whenever a tenant moves out of a property there will be inevitably be some kind of mess to clear up. Sometimes that mess requires no more than a bit of (metaphorical) spit and polish, but there are some instances when a tenant leaves more than a mess – they leave actual stuff – and this can often be much more of a hassle than dealing with, say, a stained carpet.
Unfortunately – I say unfortunately but I guess that depends on the calibre of the items left behind – finders keepers does not apply and a landlord does not automatically inherit the items left by the tenant. Some may claim possession is nine tenths of the law but by law these items still belong to the tenant even if the tenancy has come to an end.
Therefore you shouldn’t consider these items as an unexpected bonus nor can you simply dispose of them – be it on eBay (other auction sites are available), your local Oxfam or in fact the tip.
When a tenant leaves things behind, you become what is known as an ‘involuntary bailee’. This means, whilst you don’t have to keep the items in the property, you must keep hold of them until you understand what the tenant wants to do with them – in other words take or toss.
In order to comply with the law (to be specific the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977) landlords must demonstrate they’ve taken adequate steps to try and contact their tenant in an effort to return their items to them. To do this you’ll need to send them a letter by recorded or registered delivery stating:
- What items have been left behind
- The timeframes / date on which you’ll dispose of the items
- Your contact details so the tenant can arrange to collect the items if they choose.
While you may not be feeling particularly reasonable about the whole thing, you must give the tenant sufficient time to respond and collect the items; 24 hours may be plenty of time for Jack Bauer but according to landlord law it doesn’t really cut the mustard here!
When setting these deadlines you should bear in mind what has been left behind; for smaller items such as clothing, kitchen items and the infamous cuddly toy you can get away with a shorter timeframe whereas larger items such as furniture which may require additional, or even professional, assistance should be given at least 28 days.
If you don’t have an address for the tenants you should contact them, by text or email, requesting a forwarding address. If they fail to respond then send them a notice by text or email with a list of the items and the collection deadline. Should that time limit pass you are then within your rights to dispose of the items - just make sure you keep a record of the text or email in case the tenant should ever raise their head.
But bear in mind if you flog the items, the money does in fact then belong to the tenants and you must retain it for six years. I imagine they’ll be more than willing to come and collect that!
Rob Denman is a solicitor and Head of GW LET (Landlord Empowerment Team), specialising in such landlord legal issues as rent arrears, tenant eviction and tenancy deposit disputes. In his spare time Rob enjoys watching football and running. He is currently training for his second half marathon.
Content correct at time of publication