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Ending a tenancy

Dealing with possessions left behind by a tenant

If a tenant has moved out and left behind some of their possessions, they remain their legal property.

If you were to simply throw them away, you could find yourself subject to a claim for damages. So our simple guide explains your rights and responsibilities in this scenario.

Making an attempt to return them

You have the legal right to dispose of left-behind items, and will be protected from any damages claim, provided you can establish that the belongings have been abandoned.

To do so, you need confirmation from the owner (i.e. your tenant) that they don’t want them back. And until you do, you must be seen to be making reasonable efforts to contact them and return their items.

In this instance, write to the tenant and inform them of your intentions.

The letter should include:

  • Your name and address.
  • A detailed list of items you believe have been left behind.
  • Details of where they are being stored.
  • When you intend to dispose of them. (Allow a reasonable time; 3-4 weeks, perhaps.)

You should keep a copy of the letter, and it’s advisable to send their copy by Recorded Delivery so you know they’ve got it. Better yet, hand-deliver it.

Keep any correspondence (letter or email) that you get from your tenant in return; if they say you’re fine to bin their stuff, but change their mind later, you’ll be protected so long as they’ve put it in writing.

Tracing a disappeared tenant

If your tenant has vanished into thin air, you need to make a reasonable effort to track them down before disposing of their items. A people tracing service can do this for you, and this is usually free if unsuccessful.

If they can’t be found, keep the tracing agent’s report stating this. This typically means you can then sell or throw away the left-behind belongings freely.

Selling left-behind belongings

If you elect to sell items left behind rather than throw them away, the money raised from the sale belongs to your tenant in the eyes of the law, and they can reclaim it from you for up to six years – even if they can’t be traced right now. So keep a record of any sale you make.

A court would expect you to sell any items off at market value – selling them to a friend for a symbolic £1 won’t stand up in the eyes of the law. However, you do have the right to deduct associated expenses from any money raised, as with any deposit.

Beware, you can’t use money raised from selling possessions to cover rent arrears – this is actually a civil offense.

Charging for disposal

If you’ve not made any money from selling abandoned possessions, any expenses you incur (such as removers, storage costs or a tracing service) can be deducted from the deposit as a cleaning cost.