One man’s treasure is another man’s rubbish

You move into your new home and find that the former owner has left a load of their stuff in the garage. Alternatively, your tenant has moved out of your property but failed to take equipment and a number of personal possessions with them.

Your first reaction may be that you will simply throw out the jumble but you realise that some of the items may have some value. What do you do with the stuff?

Unless you can show that the stuff is truly unwanted and that the property has been “abandoned”, simply dumping the gear could prove costly for you. If you dispose of the items and the owner then asks for the return of their stuff and can prove that they did not intend to abandon these possessions, then they could claim against you for the value of their effects now disposed of.

Where you have been left in this position holding someone else’s property, legally you are a ‘bailee’ of the items. As such, you must look after and take reasonable care of the goods before they are returned to their owner or you lawfully dispose of them. To guard against claims that you have lost or got rid of some of the items or that you have damaged them or not looked after them properly, it would be sensible to make a detailed list of every item you have been left with and to take photographs showing the condition and state of the individual items when you first came across them. Do this in conjunction with someone else so that you have someone else to back up your position.

The next step is for you to make contact with the owner of the property either to return the goods to them or to make it clear to the owner that you intend to dispose of the items if they will not take them back or collect them from you.

Provided that you have taken the steps required of you under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, you will then have the option of legally selling the uncollected goods. This can be done by obtaining the permission of the court to sell the items before you do so. However, understandably most people “stuck holding the jumble” will want to avoid an expensive and lengthy court claim to resolve the problem. If you can contact the owner of the property, you may do well to opt for the approach below, available under the above legislation.

Write to the owner with a list and any photos of their abandoned items. Tell them in writing where the items are being stored and confirm that they need to remove their possessions or collect them from you where they are being stored, giving them a reasonable period to do so (probably at least a fortnight but the timeframe will depend on the types of goods and other relevant factors).You should confirm in writing, that if they have not collected the items from you by your specified date, then thereafter you will sell or dispose of the items, without further contacting the owner and that you will account to them for any net sale proceeds. If you do sell the items other than at an auction, you would do well to have the items professionally valued, before you take this step.

If the owner objects to your proposed sale or disposal of the items or you cannot find the owner, then you will be forced to apply for and to obtain the permission of the court to sell or dispose of the property, before you take either of these steps.

Written by Tim Parsons – Bates Wells & Braithwaite – 01787 880440

Tim Parsons

Tim joined Bates Wells & Braithwaite in 2017 as a Commercial Litigation Solicitor.

Tim completed his legal training in Norwich, before specialising in commercial litigation at an East Coast firm, where he represented commercial clients and individuals across East Anglia in a wide range of disputes. Prior to qualifying as a solicitor in 1993, Tim worked for a large multinational accountancy practice.

Away from the office, Tim enjoys golf and playing and watching most sports.