Here 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.