Goods left behind

Sometimes goods belonging to a tenant are left behind at the premises after the tenancy has been terminated and possession of the premises returned to the landlord.

Where this happens, the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (RT Act 2010) deals with both your right to get your goods back, and the landlord’s right to deal with the goods.

Tip

Prevention is better than cure – if it is at all possible, don’t allow your goods to be left behind. Remove your goods to storage. Give priority to removing goods that are of high personal or sentimental value but low economic value.

If goods are left behind after a tenant dies or abandons the premises, the landlord must apply to the Tribunal for an order directing how they are to dispose of the goods (section 133(3)).

In all other circumstances, what your landlord is allowed to do with goods left behind depends on the goods. Table 4.3 summarises the provisions of the RT Act 2010.

Table 4.3. Goods left behind

Type of goods

Terms of disposal

Perishable goods and rubbish

May be disposed of immediately, without notice

Personal documents, including:

  • a birth certificate, passport or other identity document
  • bank books or other financial statements or documents
  • photographs and other personal memorabilia
  • licences or other documents conferring authorities, rights or qualifications.

May be disposed of after 90 days’ notice

May be disposed of by returning documents to the issuing authority, or other lawful manner

Disposal must not result in personal information becoming publicly available

Other goods

May be disposed of after 14 days’ notice

May be disposed of by selling, or other lawful manner

Landlord must keep a record of goods disposed of

Notice of disposal may be given orally (including by a phone call) or in writing (including by post to the last forwarding address known to the landlord) (section 127(2)). If after trying for more than two days the landlord is unable to give notice to you, they can do so by posting a disposal notice in a prominent position on the premises (section 127(3)).

This is changed

Under the Residential Tenancies Act 1987, all goods had to be stored for two working days, then goods whose value was greater than the cost of storage had to be stored (for 28 days), and goods of lesser value could be disposed of immediately. No special provisions were made in relation to personal documents. Disposal notices were required to be published in newspapers, and valuable goods sold at public auction.

Up until your landlord disposes of them, you are entitled to the return of your goods (regardless of type). Upon demand, the landlord must deliver the goods up to you (that is, make them available for you to pick up at the premises or wherever they are stored). Similarly, any other person who has an interest in goods left behind is entitled to their return upon demand. Your landlord is not allowed to withhold your goods pending your payment of any debts (that is, they cannot hold your goods to ransom), with one exception: if the quantity of the goods left behind is such that the landlord could not relet the premises, the landlord can require payment of an occupation fee equivalent to one day’s rent for each day the goods were stored, to a maximum of 14 days’ rent (section 132(4) and (5)).

If your landlord refuses to deliver up goods, apply to the Tribunal for an order that they be delivered up (section 134(1)(c)). The Tribunal can also order that the landlord compensate you for any goods that have been disposed of unlawfully, or damaged during storage (section 134(1)(a) and (b)).

This is changed

Previously the Tribunal lacked the power to order compensation in matters about goods left behind.

Note that the RT Act 2010 allows landlords to dispose of goods (other than personal documents and perishable goods) by selling them – but it does not requirethat goods be sold, even where the goods are valuable (so it appears that a landlord could lawfully dispose of valuable goods by taking them to the tip). If the landlord does sell the goods, you are entitled to receive the proceeds of the sale, less any occupation fee for storage (section 132) and the reasonable costs of conducting the sale (section 130(4)). Once sold in accordance with the RT Act 2010, the goods are no longer yours; the purchaser acquires good title to the goods (section 135).