My Tenant Left Their Belongings Behind In The Property- Now What?

Tenant Left Behind Personal Possessions

Urgh! I got caught out by this vicious little hurdle in the past. I’m not even going to sugar coat it, it’s simply stone-cold infuriating and frustrating. It’s one massive ball-ache.

A couple of years ago I had a tenant leave behind a whole mountain of his possessions, which I could only consider to be a hefty pile of useless shit. It was pretty amazing how a room (and loft) full of someone’s personal possessions could amount to such little value. It mostly consisted of dusty old worthless books, old unfashionable clothes, flimsy furniture that was falling apart, hundreds of old-school VHSs, and crazy amounts of children’s toys. Absolute pile of shit.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t work in the landlord’s favour in these circumstances, despite the little (or large) monetary value, inconvenience and utter uselessness of the remaining items, because they don’t legally belong to us, and they could be valued by some other inconsiderate idiot the tenant. You know what they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”

Although, in reality, it’s almost always trash, no one leaves behind items of any reasonable value. In most cases, what remains is the junk the tenants were simply too lazy to dispose of themselves. But of course, we’re not allowed to make that assumption… despite when it’s so obviously the case. Annoying.

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What the law says landlords should do

This is where landlords really get screwed over.

The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 is what governs this particular situation, and it stipulates that landlords are required to make reasonable efforts to contact the tenant in order for them to return their possessions. Until then, we are under a legal obligation to take care of the tenant’s possessions.

This can be extremely problematic for landlords, because we usually need to clear the property for new tenants, which means we have to transfer the remains and store it somewhere else. Bearing in mind, it’s generally ALWAYS junk that the tenant doesn’t even want. But until we receive confirmation from the tenant, we can’t legally dispose of it straight away.

It wouldn’t surprise me if some tenants leave their useless shit behind as part of a deliberate scam, just so they can seek compensation when an unsuspecting landlord decides to dispose of the junk without confirmation. On that basis, I’d be very careful about disposing any items without following the proper procedure.

The whole situation can get kind of messy, but I’ll try to cover the most common scenarios…

Notifying the tenant

Often landlords will have a forwarding address for the tenant, or their phone number or email address.

In many cases, the situation can get solved over a simple phone call and/or text messages. Either the tenant will agree to collect/remove the items, or give the landlord the go ahead to dispose of the items (the latter can be terribly inconvenient). However, if they’re unresponsive or being difficult, you should serve a written notice by recorded delivery stating the following:

  • You have the intention of disposing their possessions if they are not collected within the expiry of the notice. You are obliged by law to give a reasonable period of notice, commonly 21 days
  • Instructions on how the tenant can arrange collection with you
  • If there are any possessions of value, you can state that you have intentions of selling them if they are not collected by the expiry of the notice. In this case, all the proceeds belong to the tenant (up until six years after the sale), but any costs incurred such as storage, removal and sale are deductible.

    Be warned, the law expects the landlord to obtain the best price they can for the items. Ridiculous, right? We essentially become their personal pawn shop. The tenants get a sweet deal.

It’s important to keep records of any correspondence, particularly if your tenant does give you confirmation of disposing the items. You definitely don’t want them having a change of heart and then denying all claims. I tend to prefer communicating through email these days, because it’s an easy way of keeping a nice conversation log.

If the tenant cannot be traced

This is where it can get particularly frustrating.

Alarmingly, it’s not uncommon for landlords to have no forwarding address or alternative means of contact for the tenant. In this case, all “reasonable” efforts should be taken to trace the tenant, and you do need to be able to prove you made reasonable efforts before you’re allowed to dispose of their possessions.

‘Tracing agents’ offer “no-find, no-fee” arrangements, that might be your best option in this case. fees start from £35.

Again, this can be deducted from any proceeds made from the sale of the items and anything of value must be sold at good value.

Notice of intention to sell possession

If you do plan on selling the items, Part II of Schedule 1 of the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, says the following:

  • (1)A notice under section 12(3) shall –
    • (a)specify the name and address of the bailee, and give sufficient particulars of the goods and the address or place where they are held, and
    • (b)specify the date on or after which the bailee proposes to sell the goods, and
    • (c)specify the amount, if any, which is payable by the bailor to the bailee in respect of the goods, and which became due before the giving of the notice.
  • (2)The period between giving of the notice and the date specified in the notice as that on or after which the bailee proposes to exercise the power of sale shall be such as will afford the bailor a reasonable opportunity of taking delivery of the goods.
  • (3)If any amount is payable in respect of the goods by the bailor to the bailee, and become due before giving of the notice, the said period shall be not less than three months.
  • (4)The notice shall be in writing and shall be sent by post in a registered letter, or by the recorded delivery service.

(‘Bailee’ is the person that temporarily gains possession, but not ownership)

The most mortifying aspect about all of that is that it states that the tenant should be given at least 3 months notice of the landlord’s intention to sell (unless there is a clause in the tenancy agreement saying otherwise). That means we may potentially have to store the possessions for a minimum of 3 months.

Can I use the deposit to cover the costs of storage and removal?

When a deposit is taken, it usually isn’t returned until the final inspection. So this generally gives landlords some leverage.

Generally, deposits can be used to cover cleaning costs at the end of the tenancy if the property isn’t returned in the same condition it was provided in (minus wear and tear, of course). I believe this can also count for storage costs.

But since the deposit is protected by a deposit scheme, it will be up to their internal resolution service to make the final ruling if the tenant objects to the costs. In this case, a well documented inventory will be useful as it should prove what the condition of the property was before and after the tenancy (e.g. photos of the property and a schedule of items).

Can I sell my tenant’s possessions to cover rent arrears?

Tempting. Truly tempting, and I totally get why that would be the obvious step to take.

But I wouldn’t advise it, and I would ignore those that do.

Some argue that it’s only fair (or even common sense) to sell or hold ransom tenants’ possessions if they’re in arrears. But it’s actually a civil offence to do that, so best not.

If your tenant owes rent, it should be treated as a completely separate issue from abandoned possessions. The correct way to recover the arrears is through the county court in possession proceedings or as a separate action for a money judgement.

Prevention & damage control

Needless to say, prevention is the best cure for this mess- we as landlords never want to be in this predicament, or at least limit the damage once we’re in it.

  • Good tenants & referencing
    Good and well referenced tenants will leave the property in the condition they found it in on the first day they moved in (minus any wear and tear). That’s the very definition of a good tenant.

    So if you invest time and effort into thorough tenant referencing, particularly contacting previous landlords for references in this case, it should dramatically reduce the risk of falling victim to this potential shit-storm or any other.

  • Tenancy Agreement Clauses
    Most standard Tenancy Agreements cover the situation where tenants leave behind their possessions- so make sure yours has sensible clauses to help minimize spiralling problems. For example, a clause could reduce the required 3 month notice period to sell the tenant’s possessions, to 14 days for example.

    However, it’s important to note that the clauses need to be fair and therefore enforceable, so it’s worth checking by someone qualified if your clauses meet those conditions.

  • Alternative contact details
    At the beginning of a tenancy collect in writing alternative contact details of friends or family who in the event of having goods left in the premises a landlord can contact.

    It is possible to include a clause like this into the tenancy agreement, but it is generally advisable to use a formal notice of collection of goods as well.

  • Check-out Inspection
    These days, I always arrange a check-out inspection on the day my tenants’ vacate, and that’s when I give the property a once-over and cross-reference the inventory and check every aspect on my very own make-shift check-out form (available for free download). It’s also when my tenant’s usually return the keys and we say our farewells by hugging it out. It’s emotional.

    I ignored this step the time I got caught out and I take full responsibility. Had I met my tenant’s on the last day, I could have seen all their cheap and nasty possessions and told them to get rid! Lesson learned.

Is anyone currently going through this situation or has any experience/tips? Please leave a comment…

21 Join the Conversation...

Guest Avatar
Diane 16th April, 2016 @ 20:42

2 months ago I gave my tenant notice as I need to live in the property myself. He acknowledged receipt of my letter asking him to vacate today but subsequently sent me some very abusive messages in his native language. Today I arrived at the property at the allotted time to find the locks changed, bailiff letters stuck to the front door and a house that looks as though it has been squatted in. Most of his possessions seem still to be there. The neighbours say he has not been seen for many weeks. His car (I think it is his car) is out front with a flat tyre. Where on earth do I stand? He hasn't paid rent for this month to date, by the way. Would so much appreciate any advice.

Guest Avatar
Chris Daniel 9th December, 2017 @ 21:45

Jesus ! - Don't be paying anything like £120 quid for Tracing someone !!! - No-find, No-fee = £35

The Landlord Avatar
The Landlord 10th December, 2017 @ 09:59

Thanks for the share, I'll update my blog post :)

BTW, have you used them before?

Guest Avatar
Benji 10th December, 2017 @ 20:26

@The Landlord,

For the sake of accuracy and £35 each, take a hit for the lads and try them all out yourself and then recommend the best
-you tight twat.

(Merry Christmas BTW!)

The Landlord Avatar
The Landlord 10th December, 2017 @ 20:28

Fine, give me your full name and address.

(Merry Christmas to you, too, you filthy animal!)

Guest Avatar
Heathercroft 3rd May, 2018 @ 07:55

I am being charged £50 an hour to re enter my property following eviction.i own 60%. It's complicated. Locks changed need urgent access.
Advice needed

Guest Avatar
Elaine 17th May, 2018 @ 18:48

My tenant was issued with a Notice to Quit my property due to antisocial behaviour and also because he had a Cat living with him without my consent. He was given just over a month’s notice to find somewhere else. Unbeknown to me, once he received my letter, he packed up and left, telling me a few days later that he had paid up to date (not for the month’s notice) and wanted his deposit back. On inspecting the property, he (or his Cat) had urinated all over the mattress which needed replacing, had left bedding, a flimsy chest of drawers, a printer and towels. Everything reeks of urine and is stinking out the flat. The remaining tenant is complaining that it’s unbearable (I’m not surprised). My question is - having asked him

repeatedly to collect the rest of his belongings, with no joy, the smell is overwhelming, can I bin his stuff? It’s unhygienic and makes me wretch just entering the flat. He won’t be getting his deposit back as that will cover unpaid rent and the cost of replacing the mattress, damage to the property & cleaning costs. I’m out of pocket but have no intention of selling his stuff, it’s all knackered and stinks!

Guest Avatar
Bib b 4th August, 2018 @ 23:45

Can a landlord dump the tenants rubbish at there new address ?

Guest Avatar
Sharon 10th September, 2018 @ 12:07

We have a non paying tentant leaving (we hope) 13th September 2018
We have possession order and high court sheriffs given to us so we are ready but she has not even moved a bed or clothes or anything so my question is how long do we actually have by law to store her stuff??
Bit confused as google and sites contradict quite a bit!
Cost is now too high £4000 to be wasting anymore on her so how long do we keep it for after damn letter writing and waiting for her to be bothered to reply??

Guest Avatar
Terri 19th December, 2018 @ 16:00

On the flip side in the coin; I’ve now realised after four months of vacating a property, I’ve left my Xmas stuff behind. Containing sentimental stuff my kids have made. Nobody has contacted me regarding left belongings and the letting agent is not replying to my emails. Where do I stand?

Guest Avatar
Shane Griffiths 8th February, 2019 @ 18:57

I have had lots of dealings with 99% of the landlords and tenant problems from rent arrears to evictions and no situation is the same. I am currently helping a customer with a difficult eviction where the tenant has left all there property but also her ex partner smashed 99% of the windows and damaged the property. On top of that they also owe a lot of rent. A new law was passed so that only 14 days of notice to remove there property before its removal so the property can be repaired and decorated.
The joys of lettings.....

Guest Avatar
sharon 5th April, 2019 @ 14:17

I left my rented property 1 year ago,my daughter and her then boyfriend stayed there and took on the tenancy.Since then they have broken up and the boyfriend now has the tenancy.He will not let me have my belongings and has told me that he sold them im devastated please where do i stand on this.

Guest Avatar
Rachel 23rd April, 2019 @ 06:25

I'd like some advice if possible?

After being evicted (section 21 by bailiff) from a flat I had lived in for 10 years with no rent arrears or complaints I must add, the relatively new agent refused me entry to remove my property. It was requested that named people, friends family or hired help would be allowed to enter the flat to remove all contents inc. furniture (beds and bedroom furniture sofas bookcases dining table and chairs) all white goods kitchen items crockery cutlery pots n pans electrical items Stereo system TV pottery power tools rugs bedding art clothes and shoes and my daughters entire childhood into teens memories (inc my family photo albums 20 in total) school and college work my work (pieces I had designed and produced) and that I had 3 months in which to do so.

After myself and my youngest daughter (16 yr & sitting GCSE's at the time) left our home we presented ourselves homeless in the hope we would be able to move to affordable housing as after 10 years found the rental market had nearly doubled and around 40% higher rent than social housing. This being the case I had to find and pay for large storage and removal lorry with three man removal labour, having already paid for legal fees and a bailiff to evict myself and two weeks up front rent & c/tax to stay in a 'for the homeless' room. So when my parents received the email stating I was not to enter the property at all costs and a date set for my possessions to be removed, 3 months from eviction date, I was relieved I had a little time to get the money together for removal and hopefully a place to live to move our things into.

I arranged & paid the deposit for a removal lorry two days before the 3 month period was up and went early to tell ex neighbours that the lorry would be there for some hours and didn't want to block anyone in. To my horror the whole flat had been emptied everything was gone. As I left the builder who had changed the locks prior was arriving and on his pick up was a new kitchen he was planning to fit in the said flat. I asked were my stuff was and he said it had been cleared out weeks earlier and there wasn't anything of mine left. Gutted and confused I had to cancel the lorry immediately and lost my deposit all while still being homeless.

I tried speaking with the agent but she refused to take my calls, I went to the builders house and asked what had happened to everything and he hinted some was sold some was dumped some things burnt on a bonfire and some of the nicer items kept by the house clearance men. He even had an oil lamp of mine hanging in his porch.

So my questions are? Is there anything I can do? Did they act legally? Who do I speak to about this? If I take legal action where do I go and how much will it cost me?.

I know you sway more towards the tenant only leaving their crap behind but mine really wasn't. It was our home and my kids childhood home with great memories and this agent and builder has destroyed everything we built up together.
I would really appreciate any advice you could offer and help me with. Your site has been the clearest and most informative of all I've searched.

Many Thanks & Kind Regards

Guest Avatar
Alan Johnson 29th April, 2019 @ 16:15

Tenants arrears should be paid for by the council just in the way they find them new homes or pay them a housing allowance. The low is heavily tilted against small landlords with only a couple of rental properties bought for their retirement or income. The rules must change. My tenants did not pay 15k while enjoyed a luxury Versace lifestyle. Lived on cash incomes of both partners.

Guest Avatar
Christopher Morgan 23rd June, 2019 @ 01:12

Hi i urgently need some advice about my exlandlord 2years ago my landlord throw everything i owed to the dump 7 days after he envicted me i had left with a small bag of clothes & toiletries leaving behind furniture.photes.passports. brith certificate etc my whole life basically i have never got back on my feet i am still homeless. Please can someone point me in the right direction to take him to court

Guest Avatar
Kerri 8th July, 2019 @ 20:00

my landlord throw everything i owed to the dump 7 days after he envicted me i had left with a small bag of clothes & toiletries leaving behind furniture.photes.passports. brith certificate etc my whole life basically i have never got back on my feet i am still homeless. Please can someone point me in the right direction to take him to court

Guest Avatar
renata 23rd August, 2019 @ 18:03

Hi Kerri,
Perhaps you should have moved out when you were given notice. I am about to evict tenants who have not paid rent for 5 months and have cost me nearly £2k in legal fees. If they leave any possession behind I will take them to the corporation tip as soon as I am legally allowed.

Guest Avatar
jane 15th October, 2019 @ 12:26

there seem to be plenty of questions on this page but where are the answers? i do not seem to be able to find out how long i have to give my tenants to come and collect their belongings(a sofa , fridge and freezer that they purchased(instead of asking me to replace said items as in tenancy agreement ) i do not need or want these items ,they have a pittance in second hand value ,if any at all and my new tenant wishes to move in with their belongings as soon as the bailiffs have evicted current tenants( who have trashed the place , crapped on the carpets, broken several items of furniture left for their use) I cannot live without the rental income .

Guest Avatar
linda ashworth 5th November, 2019 @ 12:47

My tenant as been evicted by a court order how do I enforce an order to have equipment and storage containers owned by him removed he will not remove these items stored on my land.

Guest Avatar
Jayne Thompson 13th December, 2019 @ 05:53

My tenant has left a full house possessions can I put it in her garden at her new property?

Guest Avatar
Zena lee 17th August, 2021 @ 14:54

My lodger bought me furniture for my house and give my furniture away can he take what he bought

















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