What are you to do if someone has left their property with you or on your premises and do not remove it although you have asked them to do so? This is a problem often facing landlords when a tenant moves out leaving some of their possessions behind, although it can also arise in other circumstances. For a landlord it will probably be a breach of the usual term in a lease requiring the premises to be left in a clean and clear state, but that does not mean that you can just throw everything away. If you do so, you could be liable under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977.
If you find yourself in the position of an ‘Involuntary Baillie’, there is a procedure which must be followed. It is necessary to show not only that the goods have been abandoned, but that there was an intention to abandon. If you destroy goods without being able to show this intention, you could be liable for damages in ‘conversion’. The Act requires that you take all possible steps to locate and contact the owner of the goods and advise them that the goods will be sold or destroyed if not collected within a reasonable time. If they are still not collected, you will be entitled to conclude that they are not required and that the owner has simply abandoned them.
Remember that you will be responsible for the storage and safekeeping of the goods until the owner has been served with notice to collect and that notice has expired. You must also make proper arrangements for the owner to collect although he will be responsible for any expense incurred.
A question often asked is what would be a reasonable period of notice. In most cases 28 days would be considered sufficient. However, if the tenant cannot be traced and the goods remain unclaimed, you should allow at least three months. The goods can then be sold and the buyer will have good legal title to them. Any proceeds from sale can be used for the expenses of storing and selling the goods or towards any rent arrears or other costs incurred by the breach of the tenancy agreement.
For a landlord it is sensible to include a clause in the tenancy agreement to confirm what is to happen to any thing left on the premises at the end of the tenancy term. Such a clause as this would suffice:
‘The landlord may remove, store and if not collected within 30 days, may sell or otherwise dispose of any furniture or goods which the tenant fails to remove from the property at the end of the tenancy. The tenant shall be responsible for all reasonable costs which the landlord may incur. The landlord shall be entitled to deduct such costs from any monies lawfully due to the tenant.’
With a clause such as this in the tenancy agreement and providing you always act reasonably, there should be no possibility of a claim being made against you after you have disposed of the property.