Q. Our tenant has left leaving some bulky possessions behind. How long are we supposed to keep these for him? We want to clear the property and re-let it.
A. The law governing this is set out in the rather antique Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977.
As the goods do not belong to you, in law you have no authority to throw them away or sell them. However, the act sets out a procedure that allows you to do this. You need to give the owner of the items in question (in this case the tenant) notice in writing to come and collect them. You should also say in your letter that if this is not done, you will be selling or otherwise disposing of the items. The letter should ideally give a list of the items concerned.
The notice period in your letter must be enough to give the tenant ‘a reasonable opportunity of taking delivery of the goods’. In most cases, 14 or 21 days’ notice should be sufficient. You can claim for storage costs if your tenancy agreement allows this, but in that case the notice period must not be less than three months (schedule 1 part 2(3) of the Act). Then, if the tenant fails to collect the items within the deadline, you have the legal right to sell them, if they have any value, or otherwise dispose of them.
If the items have any value (and even if they don’t) you should keep a record of the things disposed of. Any proceeds of sale belong to the tenant but can be offset against any money owed to you. Make sure you keep full records in case the tenant contacts you in a few years claiming you have disposed of valuable items and they want compensation!