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Can this landlord sell the tenants property which they left behind?

tripodHere is a question to the blog clinic from Alice (not her real name) who is a landlord:

Last summer I sub let my apartment for 3 months. I had a written and signed agreement stating what the rent was and when it was to be paid and that’s about it.

On moving out the “tenants” told me that they had left an old tripod there worth around £50. They arranged a date about a week after to collect it. They did not turn up to collect and didn’t contact me at all on that day to say they weren’t coming.

I waited 2 months before selling the tripod as it was just clutter to me. Then they contacted me and want to pick it up! They are now threatening to tell the police. Please could someone tell me where I stand in terms of the law?

I am afraid you are in the wrong Alice.

The fact that you did not give them a proper tenancy agreement does not mean that they are not proper tenants.  All it means is that you have tenants but don’t have a comprehensive tenancy agreement to protect your position.

However the main problem is the sale of the tenants tripod.

Tenants leaving property behind is a big problem for landlords. Its annoying as it takes up space but as the items do not belong to you – you do not have the legal right to dispose of them.

So if you throw them away or sell them, this is a civil wrong and the tenants are entitled to compensation – up to the value of the item concerned.  There may also be a criminal element but I don’t think the Police are going to be very interested.

What you should have done

There is a procedure set out in an act called The Torts (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1977 which you can follow.

This says that you must send a letter, by recorded delivery, to the owner of the items, giving them a (reasonable) time limit to remove the items, and giving information about where the they are held and what they need to do to collect them.

If you do this, then if the items are not collected you are then able to sell or (if it is valueless) throw it away.

You need to keep a record of what you have done.  If the tenants have not provided you with an address, you do not have to send the letter if you have made ‘reasonable attempts’ to find them.

About the author

Tessa Shepperson Tessa is a lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law. She runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 12th year) and is also a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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3 Responses to Can this landlord sell the tenants property which they left behind?

  1. JamieT says:

    The solution afforded by the Torts Act is all well and good, but in the real world where we’re talking about a single, relatively low value item, I don’t think you need to worry too much about the action you have taken.

    They were unreasonable in failing to turn up on the agreed collection date and so you sold it a few months later. Just pay them what you sold it for. If it’s less than £50, just explain you deducted storage costs as permitted under the Torts Act.

    I really doubt they will pay the application fee to take you to court over such a small sum and the police won’t be bothered. If they turned up (extremely unlikely) they’d just chat to you both and solve it there and then with you maybe agreeing to give the tenant a few quid.

  2. True. But its still best to follow the proper procedure. Then you cannot be criticised.

  3. Industry Observer says:

    I don’t always agree with Jamie T but here I do, not that I disagree with you either Tessa. But we do have to live or at least operate in the real world.

    In over 20 years I have ever known a case where a tenant pursued for anything, usually because what is left behind is tatty or the LL would love to debate costs with them, such as rent arrears or damage.

    If the tenant values the tripod at £50 it’s probably worth less than £20 – general second hand items have so little value these days



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

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