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Can a landlord withhold tenant’s possessions to cover damage?

A lien?Here is a question to the blog clinic from Adele who is a landlord:

I have recently evicted my tentant after he was arrested for growing canabis in my house. He left the property voluntarily and handed over the keys.

We allowed him to take his personal belongings but have witheld his setee, TV and bed informing him he can have these back when he has paid the rent untill the end of the month.  It was due on the 1st Dec and he left on the 3rd.  Also the cost of the damage to the property, cleaning costs and cost of changing the locks.

His property is not valuable and would not cover what he owes if I sold it. I have kept his bond but this does not cover the cost of the rent and damages.

I have been informed by the police that I am not allowed to do this under the Torts Act 1977 and I must return his property and then persue my claim through the civil court at cost to myself.

If I do this I will not recieve any money to cover the damage he has done to my property.  Could you please advise, thank you.

I am afraid you can’t withhold these items Adele, or at least not as of right.  Landlords do not have a ‘lien‘ over tenants possessions if they owe money, in the same way as, say, hotel owners do.

The Police are right in what they say – the items belong to the tenant and must be returned to him.  The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 they refer to, allows you to sell someone’s goods after giving notice, but this is ONLY if they fail to collect them after having been given notice.  Not because they owe you money.

There is actually no legal way that YOU can withhold and sell a tenants goods to cover costs owed to you.

If you get a County Court Judgement against the tenant, eg for the rent and damage, you can then enforce this via the Bailiffs (or High Court Sheriffs) and THEY can then levy execution on the goods.

However if the goods are not valuable in themselves this could be an expensive option, as you will be personally responsible for the bailiffs costs of storage and selling the items at auction – if these costs are not covered by the proceeds of sale.

I realise that for landlords owed money by tenants for arrears and damage this is not a satisfactory answer.  The procedures in this country for enforcing debt are less than satisfactory in many ways.  The only thing to do is to claim what you can from your insurance and put it down to experience

Renting property is a business activity and we all know that there are risks in business.  Losing money due to rent arrears and damage done by bad tenants is one of them.

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5 Responses to Can a landlord withhold tenant’s possessions to cover damage?

  1. I think you could try to give notification that his goods have been removed and are in storage, with a storage company, at X cost per month. When he gets out at least he will have to pay somethoing to get his goods or not get them. This happened to me and I called the tenants daughter and got her to claim all goods belonging to the tenant and sign a witnessed, document saying that all of his goods had been removed. (apart from a couple of things which were of value)but she never knew that. All the best Kev

  2. It is not clear whether the tenant actually owes the rent for the last month because the stated facts are a perhaps confusing. She states that she evicted him after he had been arrested but that he left voluntarily. Was an actual valid notice given? Was there a mutual agreement after the arrest (an arrest itself may not be sufficient ground to obtain possession) for a parting of the ways? If so the parties may have waived rights in return for immediate vacation. I am pleased to read that the police provided some advice about the possessions; it is rare in my experience.

  3. so.. what would be the process if a tenants leaves without notice and there is no way of contacting them? how long are their belongings to be kept? and what if you don’t have adequate storage space to keep them? can hiring storage space and/or charging the tenant for it be done? surely there must be a time limit before landlords can dispose or sell the items.

  4. Ben discusses the procedure under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 here

    If you don’t have an address you should make reasonable attempts to find them and keep a record of this. If you do this you can then dispose of the items – but remember they still belong to the tenant.

    See this horror story from my Landlord Law site :

  5. Landlords taking tenants belongings in lieu of rent is a very common complaint in TRO land. I get injunctions regularly for return of goods, there is no defence. It has been unlawful since 1977 I’m afraid.

    The law also covers a landlord’s duty of care to abandoned goods as well and as Trish points out what if you have nowhere to keep them? I have a lot of sympathy with that problem.

    The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act states that a landlord needs to give 3 months notice of intention to sell but I read an intriguing article some months ago on the Painsmith blog that says if you put a clause in the contract saying “14 days” this will suffice, however it doesnt expand on that point so I would like to know myself



About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer and specialises in creating products and services which help landlords and letting agents learn and understand landlord & tenant law. For example, she runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 14th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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