Question: I am a landlord and my tenants moved out recently but left behind some of their belongings. What should I do?

Answer: By Carolyn Majda, Executive Manager, Terri Scheer Insurance Tenants that abandon belongings when they vacate a property can leave behind major headaches for landlords. From sofas and old television sets to clothes and cutlery, it can all add up to a costly nuisance for property owners. Tenants are ultimately responsible for ensuring all of their belongings are removed from the premises at the end of a tenancy. However, there are landlords who would attest some tenants do not always fulfil this responsibility.

While ensuring the property is in appropriate order for the next tenant, landlords can often be faced with disposing of or dealing with unwanted items.

Make contact

It is important for the landlord to first seek contact with the departed tenant to inform them of the items and arrange a time for pick-up. This may also allow the landlord and tenant to agree on other options such as disposal or storage.

To dispose or not to dispose?

Laws vary across states as to what landlords are permitted to do with items left on the property. In general, perishable foods, dangerous goods and items of no monetary value can be disposed of immediately. If there is a question about whether an item has any monetary value, err on the side of caution and assume there is some value attached.

It is worth contacting the local council or shire to clarify rubbish collection options. The rubbish and recycling departments within these municipalities may also be able to assist in determining what classifies as a dangerous good.

What if the items are deemed rubbish?

There is a range of options for the landlord that include keeping the item (or items), storing it, holding it for the tenant to pick up at a later time, donating it or selling it.

If the tenant is indebted to the landlord, for example if they’ve fallen behind in rent, the landlord may be able to take ownership of the tenant’s discarded property. This may require a court order. Similarly, the landlord may be required to pay the tenant the market value of the item so check the relevant state laws.

Tenants will need to be informed in writing if a landlord places any of their items in storage; detailing which items and the time they are to be held. Again, check the relevant state laws to determine if there are specific timeframes allowed for storage of certain items as they may differ, and if the tenant is liable for the costs of the storage.

In some situations the landlord may be required to hold on to the items for the tenant for a certain period. The timeframe may vary depending on whether the tenant has left because of a lease running out or they have been evicted. In most cases, the associated storage and moving costs may be charged to the tenant.

Another option for the landlord is to donate the items to charity. There are usually plenty of charities happy to receive second-hand clothes or furniture. Finally, the landlord may also be able to sell the discarded property as reimbursement for storage costs or rent owed. Any remaining balance from the sale is likely to be required to be paid back to the tenant. It’s a good idea for a landlord to discuss his or her legal responsibilities with a lawyer before deciding on a specific course of action. It is also advisable to have photographic evidence of the items in question.

Preventative steps

There are several steps landlords can take to help ensure departing tenants make a clean break.
These include:
  • Appointing a property manager and undertaking regular inspections
  • Maintaining a positive relationship with your tenant
  • Having a good landlord insurance policy
Costs to landlords relating to short-term storage and legal disposal of discarded items are covered by
Terri Scheer Insurance policies.