It is not safe to assume (as a landlord) that any goods or possessions left at the end of a tenancy can immediately be disposed of. Below, we explain what you can do to ensure you do not end up on the wrong side of the law, when clearing a property.
Firstly, let’s deal with the easy part!
Where; what is clearly rubbish, is left, it would be a reasonable conclusion by a landlord that the rubbish has been abandoned and be disposed of without making enquiries.
What about goods and possessions?
You may be wondering why you cannot just dispose of anything else left over at the end of a tenancy, after all, the tenancy has ended and you’re not receiving any rent, why should you be responsible? Unfortunately, the landlord will be what’s called an ‘involuntary bailee’ of the goods and possessions that remain at the premises. This places a duty on the landlord to do what is ‘right and reasonable’ in the circumstances. The value of the goods (monetary or sentimental) will determine the amount of care you should take. The former tenant can claim damages if the landlord fails to do so.
A pertinent question to answer initially would be, do the goods/possessions definitely belong to the tenant? You may have to turn detective. Is there a possibility that goods belong to someone else? E.g. stock that has not been paid for or equipment that may still be on HP agreements) can leftover paperwork provide any clues? If the answer is no, then following the process below may be the only way for the landlord to protect themselves from claims.
So how do I protect myself?
Firstly, check the lease. There may be provision in there that may be of some help. And also remember you now have a duty of care to take reasonable care of the goods. So it is important that you bear this in mind. You do not want to be held liable if the goods are stolen! Otherwise, particularly if you have suspicions that the goods belong to a third party you are best to serve a notice under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977. This notice is best attached in a prominent place at the premises, such as the entrance door.
You could argue abandonment – this may be difficult as you would have to establish that you had a reasonable entitlement to conclude that no one is interested in the goods so you can dispose of them. This could be difficult to establish, if, for example it is high value unopened stock.
I’ve served the notice – the time has expired – can I now hire a skip?
The Act does not provide any guidance as to whether goods and possessions can be disposed of once the notice has expired. Again, it is down to what is ‘right and reasonable’ in the circumstances.
It is wise to always serve notice and display it on the door, store the goods and possessions, either at the property or if this is not possible then at another location – you have a duty of care towards the goods and possessions until you conclude your search and communications attempts. Search for the former tenant – do you have a forwarding address you can serve notice at? Do the goods have an address of supplier on that you can contact?
Its probably best to take photographs of the goods and make an inventory – a picture can speak a thousand words and could be vital evidence to showing you were ‘right and reasonable’ to do what you did in the circumstances. Consider getting the goods professionally valued, for the same reason.
If the goods and possessions are of a high or significant value (remember in monetary or sentimental value) then consider seeking legal advice.
Here at Wilson Browne we’re available to assist you with your legal needs. Call us today on 0800 088 6004.