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Home NewsLifestyle & Renting My tenants have left my rental property suddenly, leaving a car in the garage.  Can I keep the car?

My tenants have left my rental property suddenly, leaving a car in the garage.  Can I keep the car?

Unfortunately not.  There are laws governing what a landlord should do if the tenant vacates a property and leaves some of their belongings behind.  Any property left behind by a tenant still belongs to them and if possible, the landlord should always try to return it.  If the landlord disposes of the goods and it turns out to be valuable the tenant could make a claim against them for damages.  In the case of a car, it could be quite a large claim!

The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977

The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 states that the landlord may dispose of any property left behind but first they must try and trace the tenant and return their belongings.

Checklist for disposing of a tenant’s property

The Torts Act imposes strict procedures that the landlord must follow before a tenant’s property can be disposed of.

If the landlord has a forwarding address they should write and inform the tenant (preferably by recorded delivery) of their intention to sell or dispose of the items.  They should give the tenant three months’ notice of their intention to sell them.

They should also supply:

– The landlord’s (or letting agent’s) name and address where they can be contacted

– Details of the items held

– Where they are held

– The date on which the landlord plans to sell the items – this must give the tenant enough time to collect the goods, usually between two and four weeks

What to do if you do not have a forwarding address for the tenant

If the tenant has left suddenly they may not have left a forwarding address and in this instance, the landlord should use a tracing agent to try and find the tenant.   The landlord needs to demonstrate that they have made reasonable attempts to locate them.  Many offer a ‘no trace no fee’ arrangement.  If the tenant cannot be found, the landlord should keep a copy of the agent’s report to show this.

Although technically the proceeds of any sale of the goods belong to the tenant, the landlord is allowed to deduct reasonable costs from the proceeds of the sale and any sums outstanding such as rent arrears or storage costs.   Most items left behind by a tenant turn out to be worthless, but it can be useful to take a photograph of the items as evidence before disposing of them.

While it is quite common to find bits and pieces left behind a tenant, these tend to be worthless.  But there have been occasions when we have been quite surprised by what we have found after a tenant leaves a property – from a full-sized treadmill to a set of skis and a toupee left in a biscuit tin!

And on one occasion the keys to a Range Rover were handed by a vacating tenant to the porter of an apartment block.  The tenant said we could keep it but after much discussion we had to insist that the tenant arrange to have it collected!

If you find a valuable item in your rental property after your tenant has left and are not sure of the right course of action, consult your solicitor or managing agent who will be able to advise you.



About the Author

Established in 1958, Benham and Reeves is one of London’s oldest, independently owned property lettings and sales agents.  With specialism in residential sales, corporate lettings and property management in prime areas of London, the company operates from 21 prominently located branches and 14 international offices.