What to do when a tenant leaves belongings in your property

When a tenant vacates a property, be it voluntarily or through eviction, they are legally required to take all their belongings with them.

However, sometimes this doesn’t always happen and the landlord maybe left with furniture or other items on their property.

So where does the landlord stand legally and what should you do with the belongings?

It’s not quite as easy as the adage ‘ownership is nine tenths of the law’ and depending on what is left there are some procedures you do need to follow if the tenancy has been ended legally.

Perishable goods and rubbish

You can dispose of any rubbish or perishable items left behind by the tenant immediately. The Government of New South Wales fair trading website gives examples of ‘a broken chair and a pile of old newspapers, perishable food left in a cupboard or dying pot plants in the yard’.

While you do not have to notify the tenant or get their consent to dispose of these items, you must be reasonably sure that what you are disposing of is in fact rubbish.

Non-perishable goods and other items

If the goods aren’t perishable and they definitely aren’t rubbish, you will need to follow the correct procedure to avoid potential legal challenges later down the track.

  • Give notice

You will need to notify the former tenant, in writing, in person or verbally, (although we recommend in writing), their belongings will be destroyed if they don’t collect them.

The Fair Trading website also suggests leaving a notice in a prominent position somewhere on the premises if you can’t contact the tenant and also contacting the rental company if the goods are obviously leased.

  • Store the belongings

Belongings of value (eg furniture, electrical items and clothes) need to be kept for at least 14 days from the date of the collection notice.

Personal documents, such as birth certificates, official documents and bank books, legally have to be kept in a safe place for 90 days from the date of the collection notice.

Tenant reclaiming goods

The former tenant or anybody else with a legal interest in the goods can reclaim the items at any time they remain in your possession. Even if the former tenant owes you money or rent, you cannot refuse to return the belongings.

Usually the landlord doesn’t charge a storage fee, but if enough goods were left to prevent you from renting the premises, you can charge an ‘occupation fee’ to the person claiming the items. This occupation fee is equal to a day’s rent and can be charged for each day the goods are held. They don’t necessarily have to be stored on the premises either.

Unfortunately, even if you hold the goods for longer than the 14 days, you can only charge an occupation fee of up to 14 days.

Disposing unclaimed items

If the former tenant fails to reclaim the goods within the 14 days, the Fair Trading website gives you a number of options of what to do:

  • donate the goods to charity (e.g. leave clothes in a clothing bin or arrange for furniture etc to be collected), or
  • dispose of the goods in a lawful manner (e.g. take them to the tip or organise a council collection if such a service is available in your area), or
  • keep the goods in the property if they are useful fixtures and fittings (e.g. curtains), or
  • sell the goods for fair value and give the proceeds to the tenant (less the occupation fee and reasonable costs of the sale) or send it to Revenue NSW after 6 years as unclaimed money.

Unclaimed personal documents should be returned to the issuing authority when possible or shredded after 90 days.

If you have followed the law correctly, you are protected if the tenant comes back to you later about the goods. If the law was not followed you could be ordered by the Tribunal to pay compensation to the tenant. This could include any damage to the items while they were in your possession.

For more information on landlord obligations visit the Fair Trading website www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au

If you are in any doubt, seek advice from your property manager or consult a legal specialist.

Our team know the legalities behind all sorts of situations and we ensure all the properties we manage operate within the law.

If you want to know more, come on in to our Cardiff office for a chat or give us a call on 02 4956 9777.

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