Clarkslegal has recently assisted a boatyard owner in the disposal of an abandoned steamboat. Whilst this is was an unusual scenario, it is often the case that when a tenant vacates a property, they leave behind unwanted possessions or goods, which have to be cleared before the property can be re-let. If what has been left behind is clearly just rubbish, the landlord can probably just dispose of it. But items or goods, even if the tenant appears to have abandoned them, are more complicated and cannot simply be thrown away. In this case, the landlord becomes what is known as an ‘involuntary bailee’ of the items and has a duty not to deliberately or recklessly damage or destroy them. So what should the landlord do with them?
First, check the terms of the lease or agreement. Many modern leases contain a clause which provides that any items left in the property for more than e.g. 14 days after the end of the tenancy will become the property of the landlord and/or the landlord is entitled to dispose of them.
If there is no such clause, the landlord cannot simply dispose of the items and must serve a notice on the tenant, requiring them to collect the goods within a reasonable period of time and stating what will happen if the goods are not collected i.e. whether they will be disposed of (in the case of low value items) or sold. The landlord must take reasonable steps to locate the tenant for the purpose of serving the notice. Care also needs to be taken to locate the correct owner, in respect of any goods which appear to be owned by third parties.
If the tenant or owner does not collect the goods within the reasonable period of time specified by the notice, the landlord can dispose of or sell the goods. If the latter, the landlord must hold onto the proceeds of sale, less their costs, for the tenant for a reasonable period. Landlords should take legal advice to ensure they comply with all the required formalities before disposing of or selling goods to reduce the risk a future claim from the tenant or owner.