When landlords take back possession of their properties from devilish tenants, they can often be greeted by a mass of cauldrons and corpses they do not recognise and immediately want rid of. This can spell trouble for uninformed landlords who then start dealing with such goods as their own to bury or trade. Below we explain why a property full of goods is a trap for the unwary and suggest steps landlords can take to come away unharmed.

Involuntary bailment

If a ghoul’s possessions remain once a ghostbuster goes back into possession of a haunted house, the likelihood is that the ghostbuster, or landlord, will be an ‘involuntary bailee’ of those goods. This places a duty on the ghostbuster to do what is ‘right and reasonable’ (to be determined on a case by case basis) and gives the ghoul a claim in damages if he fails to do so.

Whose pumpkins are they anyway?

This is the first question a landlord in this situation should ask. Do the goods belong to the tenant or are they goods of third parties (eg stock which has not been paid for, equipment on finance agreements, goods subject to a control of goods agreement)? Paperwork at the property may help in answering this question but otherwise it can just be a case of placing a general goods notice on the creaky door of the property (see below) and waiting for witches to uncloak.

Notices under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977

If there is nothing in the lease to assist, or you suspect that some of the goods at the property belong to a third party, a landlord is generally best advised to serve a statutory notice, penned in blood, before disposing of or selling the wares.

Burial of bodies

Under the Act

The Act does not assist landlords any further with the question of whether goods left behind can be disposed once notices have expired. Instead, a landlord will need to rely on being able to show that they have discharged their duty as an involuntary bailee (ie done what is ‘right and reasonable’) and are therefore free to dig the grave.

Abandoned goods

Alternatively, it may be possible to run an abandonment argument. This involves establishing a reasonable entitlement to conclude that no one is interested in the goods and therefore they can be disposed of without a headstone.

The higher the value of the goods (either in monetary or sentimental terms), the more care a landlord should take.

Does the above apply to rubbish?

Unlikely. Where rubbish is left behind, a landlord should be able to reasonably conclude from the nature of the goods that they have been abandoned and can therefore be disposed of without making any prior enquiries.

Practical advice

  • Always nail a general goods notice to the door once the ghostbuster returns.
  • If in doubt, store all bodies, either at the property or at your local morgue, pending the conclusion of your searches and communication attempts.
  • Complete a photographic inventory of the goods and/or obtain professional valuations – these can act as important evidence to justify your actions if you are held over a cauldron later on.
  • Where goods are of or could be of significant value, ask your solicitor to help with some hocus pocus.