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Property Hawk

Tenants stuff - where do I stand?

Landlords will often be confronted at some stage of the tenancy with the issue of tenants ‘stuff’.

What I mean by tenants ‘stuff’ is in fact the tenants’ possessions that occupy your lovely, valuable, minimalist property.

There are several issues relating to tenants 'stuff'.

Firstly, when it comes to carrying out a ‘check in’ it’s imperative that you note down in your inventory all your items of furniture and their details.  I’m talking about fridges, freezers, lampshades, curtain poles.  All the things that are not ‘bricks and mortar’.

This is because if there is a dispute ,you now have to prove to an arbitrator  of the relevant Tenancy Deposit Scheme that your fixtures, fittings and furniture were indeed yours.(watch out next week for Tom Derret’s of ADR solutions article )



This means that if you let the property with a fridge freezer.  You will have to prove that it was your lovely new Bosch freezer not some ‘crappy’ bit of junk that has suddenly appeared in its place at the end of the tenancy.  This means I’m afraid labouriously noting down the exact model and make of all your appliances if you are going to avoid having your things swapped for some of the tenant’s stuff.

Tenants waste – just as much of a problem.


Paradoxically, it’s not just a case of tenants running off with your things; but actually frequently it’s the things that they leave behind that can be just as much of a problem for landlords.

Now, having a valuable painting left in the attic would be a lovely surprise.  However, that very rarely happens.  A much more likely scenario is that the tenant will leave you with a whole load of ‘crap’.

What landlords need to ensure is that before they agree the check out with the tenant that they have thoroughly inspected the loft ( a favourite hiding place of tenants) and off course the cellar and garage.

All these places along with kitchen cupboards are places where  cunning tenants like to stash their old unwanted bric a brac, porn magazines and quite probably their collection of rotting retro-trainers.

In many ways having items left doesn’t seems so morally reprehensible as stealing ‘stuff’, but it can be equally annoying and frustrating for landlordsIf as it will probably involve loading up the car and a trip to the tip  It’s a waste of a landlords time and energy and pretty damn annoying.  Why should you do it rather than the tenant?  After all, it is their ‘stuff’ not yours.

Responsibility not always clear cut


I’ve recently had a case where the tenants left. They did clear out the flat but left most of their rubbish piled in bin liners next to an over filled wheelie bin.  Then, the local scavengers decided to pick through the bags to see if there was anything they could salvage! Is this what ‘Browns Britain’ has come to I thought.

The result.  A whole load of mixed rubbish left stroon across the parking court.  The tenants of course were long gone.

So who’s responsibility is it?


Arguably the tenants should have taken that quantity of rubbish to the tip.  Clearly, a wheelie bin is only designed to take a week or two of domestic waste and not to house a lifetimes junk.  Whilst the tenant hasn’t done anything wrong technically.  Why should the landlord spend a morning bagging up the rubbish again and taking it to the tip?

As it happens I used my initiative and phoned up the local council, Nottingham City.  They were very accommodating and I arranged a ‘special collection’ at no charge.  They will pick up the extra rubbish, provided it is bagged up.

In this situation I used a little bit of good will I have built up with my new tenant at the start of the tenancy.  I’ve asked for him to bag the rubbish for me as I’m away on holiday in France prior to the collection. 

This incident however does raise the important question of who is responsible for the tenants ‘stuff’.  Could I have charged the tenant for a commercial operation to clean up the rubbish and take it away?  Would this be a legitimate deduction from their deposit and would it hold up if the matter was disputed by the tenant by an appointed arbitrator.  Has anybody had experience of this? If so please post your comments below.



Landlords rights over tenants possessions


My final point on tenants 'stuff' relates to the rights of landlords over tenants’ property.  More specifically can a landlord keep a tenants’ possessions in lieu of payment?

Many landlords assume that if a tenant stops paying rent or owes them money; that they can do a 'quid pro quo' , using the tenants’ possessions as recompense.  It all makes sense in terms of the law of natural justice.

However, this assumption ignores the law of Tort (Intereference Goods) Act 1977.  This law specifically prevents a landlord from taking or withholding a tenants stuff in lieu of payment.  Before 1977 there was a law called ‘Detinue’.  However, this was specifically abolished by the above Act.

If a landlord does get tempted to withhold or take a tenants stuff then they could be in for a big fine.  In the recent case of Cashmere v. Walsh, Downing and Veale the tenant was awarded £6,515 for the landlord failing to return the tenants possessions.

The correct way for a landlord to claim for owed money is to recover it through possession proceedings or a money judgment.

A landlord who may have a tenant who appears to have ‘done a runner’ but has still left some of their possessions may be judged by the law to be still in possession of the property.  A landlord should always take the appropriate proceeding even where it looks like ‘abandonment’ may have occurred.

It just shows that a tenant’s ‘stuff’ can play a bigger part in a tenancy than you might first think.

Any comments on the issues raised please post them here.


 

Hi Property Hawk,
 
Just to add some anecdotal info:
 
I recently had a tenant do a runner on me to avoid eviction through unpaid rent, denying access, and widespread damage to the fixtures and fittings.
 
When he was gone, he left a LOT of junk, including a steel-framed articulated double-bed, a sofa (no cushions), a wardrobe, a chest, a steel cabinet, a dozen bike frames, 21 bike wheels, 14 front forks sets, and about 4cwt of gears and levers, and of-course the obligatory 3 mattresses.
 
When I checked what my legal rights were, I was told I can’t just skip-it, as it’s not mine. And even though I knew where he now lived (across the road if you can believe that!), I couldn’t dump it there either, as the landlord of THAT property could do me for dumping.
 
I had to give him official notice; a ‘reasonable period’ in which to remove it, knowing full-well he would do no such thing. Meanwhile my house was sitting junk-filled and un-let.
 
In the end it took two flatbed van-loads to the tip to get rid, and in respect of the cost of me removing the gear, I CAN indeed claim the legitimate removal costs, but this will just get added to the arrears and the bill for repairs of damages, which I’ll end up chasing him through the courts for.
 
Hey-ho.
 
Regards Andy


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