What is a lien?
A lien is where someone who is owed money is entitled to hang on to the debtors possessions until he pays. So for example:
- An agent is entitled to retain his principals good until he gets paid
- A solicitor is entitled to retain papers and deeds held for clients against payment of their fees
- A hotelier has a lien over the property of guests if they have not paid their bill
A landlord’s lien?
However, unfortunately (for them) landlords do not fall with in the category of people who have a lien. I understand that in some countries there may be a landlords lien, but not in England and Wales.
That means if your tenant leaves things behind in their rented property, you are not entitled to keep them, even if they have not paid their rent.
What if you keep the items anyway?
So what is the situation if you just hang on to the goods anyway and tell your tenant (when he asked for them back) that you will only hand them over if they pay you?
The tenant will be entitled to go to court and ask for an order that the things be handed back to him, or for payment of their value if you don’t, and (maybe) for compensation for any losses he has suffered as a result of not having them (so long as those losses are forseeable).
You would however be able to bring a counterclaim for the money due to you and would be entitled to judgment for this.
You woud be a at a disadvantage however as you are in the wrong for hanging on to the tenants things when they have asked for them back, and it is possible that you coud end up out of pocket. So you need to be careful.
After six years
If however you hang on to the things for six years or more, the tenant will have lost the right to sue for them, under the Statute of Limitations – this is an act which sets out how long you get to claim something through the courts.
So if you left a diamond ring in a property and the landlord refused to give it back to you, you could bring a successful claim to get it back again (although if you owed money the Judge might order that you paid this first).
However if you did not bring your claim until after six years had passed, then the landlord could get the claim dismissed under the Statute of Limitations and you would not be able to do anything about it.