The Welsh government has begun a consultation on the obligations on landlords to deal with personal items left behind by tenants when they leave a rental property.
Tenants often leave behind items when they depart a privately-rented property. In some cases those items are little more than rubbish, sometimes they are very valuable. The reasons for this are complex and run the full range from changing attitudes to possessions in a more throwaway society through to being in a rush and carelessness. For a landlord it can sometimes be very hard to tell the difference between items that have been abandoned with the intention that the landlord dispose of them and items that are of value and have been left by mistake.
The current legal position in England and Wales is set by the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977. This is a fairly old and confusing piece of legislation. However, where a tenant abandons property in a landlord’s property then the landlord becomes a bailor of those goods. A landlord must look after goods abandoned into its possession and make reasonable efforts to contact the tenant to give a notice of intention to sell. If they give such a notice they must give a reasonable notice period and after that they can sell or dispose of the goods. It is common for people to cite the figure of 3 months as a reasonable notice period but that is not precisely what the Act says and a period of 28 days will be sufficient in the vast majority of cases.
In Wales, however, the government is bringing into force the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016. This is not expected to be in force until 2019 but Renting Homes is a complete replacement for much of the existing law in the private and social residential sector. Therefore it will also replace the existing system for dealing with abandoned property. The new system for Wales consists of a set of regulations made under Renting Homes and a guidance document to explain them better. These new regulations will only apply where a tenant has abandoned a property before the end of the tenancy, which is the most common situation where additional items are left. Where a landlord believes a tenant has abandoned the property, Renting Homes allows them to give the tenant a 28 day notice that they believe this has occurred. At the end of the 28 day notice period the tenancy ends.
The proposed regulations require a landlord to store property for one month from the end of the tenancy, that is after the end of the 28 day notice period. During that month the tenant can reclaim their property from the landlord but they are required to pay the costs that the landlord has reasonably incurred in storing the items and delivering them if that is agreed. At the end of the one month the landlord can sell or dispose of the property and retain the cost of the storage. If the items are valueless such that the storage cost would unreasonably outweigh the items value or perishable so that they cannot be stored for one month then the landlord can dispose of them immediately.
One of the great things about Renting Homes is that the Welsh government is entirely rethinking the rental system. They are trying to get rid of the confusing web of legislation and create a simpler fairer system. This will be welcome to both landlords and tenants. While such a massive overhaul is unlikely to be carried out in England the government could do more to simplify the law by reviewing older pieces of legislation and tidying up provisions that trip up unwary landlords and create traps for tenants.