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Tenant Possessions and the Tort Act (1977)

You may never have heard of the Tort (Interference with Goods) Act before, but as a landlord it’s extremely important to understand the basics.  

And those are that if a tenant leaves goods behind after their tenancy officially comes to an end and they have already vacated your property, there are certain regulations you must follow before disposing of them. 

What you must do, for instance, is attempt to contact the tenant to let him or her know that these goods are currently in your possession. For official purposes (ie proof that you have actually done this) send the tenant a registered letter to their forwarding address (if there is one). The letter should both list the items and let the tenant know where they are ie in your possession or in a safe box. You should then give the tenant a date to collect the items by. At the same time inform him or her that if the goods are not picked up by this date then you will dispose of them, or sell them. 

It is generally advised that up to three weeks is a reasonable length of time. If you are owed rent by the tenant and want to sell the goods to recoup some of the lost cash then you can’t sell them on for at least three months. 

The Tort Act applies regardless of the reason the tenant has left the goods behind ie accidentally because they were in a hurry or deliberately because they couldn’t be bothered to dispose of these themselves. Sometimes it is the case that the tenant leaves the goods behind because they owe rent and know the landlord could sell them on for money. But this isn’t a common occurrence.  

Can a Landlord Remove a Tenants Belongings?

The law states that if a landlord does throw out a tenant’s goods in a short space of time and without notifying them of this intention, then they could end up having to pay compensation to the tenant in recompense. 

Why Tenants Shouldn’t Leave Goods Behind

It can be tempting for tenants to leave goods behind for the landlord to dispose of if they’ve already packed and don’t have any more space for additional items. But financially it doesn’t make sense. That’s because the landlord not only has to clear the property but also store these goods. The upshot for his or her time is that they can then charge you for this. In other words, leaving goods behind means you’ll find a certain amount deducted from your deposit as a consequence. 

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So, Landlords – Should You Sell?

If, as a landlord, you have followed the law to the letter by informing the tenant, within a particular timescale, that you’ll dispose of the goods unless they are collected, then they will be yours to do with what you please. Chances are, they’re not worth much anyway and any profit you make from selling them would be negligible. Certainly, we have never heard of a tenant leaving behind high-class electrical equipment or designer clothing. 

If you do believe they are worth a little money though, and are anxious to recoup some of the unpaid rent your tenant left you with, then you could sell the goods online via eBay, Gumtree or similar. 

Be aware though, that if you do make enough money in selling the goods to pay for the missed rent, that any profit technically belongs to the tenant. Yes – it does seem a bit unfair, considering you went to the hassle of selling them. Whether the tenant would know though is another story… 

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