After your lodger has gone
The first thing to remember is that they do not belong to you. They belong to the lodger. So if your lodger asks for them, you should give them to him.
This may create difficulties if your lodger has been forcibly evicted and you are worried about letting him back into the house. In these circumstances, it is best to arrange for the police to be there, so he cannot do anything malicious or perhaps refuse to leave.
If, as perhaps may be more common, you lodger has just gone leaving these things behind, what should you do? Legally you are a position quaintly known by lawyers as an ‘involuntary bailee’.
You do not have to leave the items in the room. It is quite in order to pack them up and put them somewhere else. After all, you will want to re-let the room, and your new lodger will not want them there. So pack them up nicely, either in bin bags or perhaps some cardboard boxes, and move them to wherever you have some space. Perhaps in the garage or under the stairs.
However, you probably don’t want them cluttering up your house for long. You will probably either want to throw them away, or (if they have any value) sell them. You can do this, but only if you first carry out the procedure set out in an act called The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977.
This act says that if you want to dispose of goods belonging to another person, you must first write to them asking them to remove the goods. The letter should say:
- What the items you hold are
- Where they are being held, and
- How long they will be available for collection before you dispose of or sell them
You need to give a reasonable period of time for their collection. I would suggest at least 14 days. The act says it must be “such as will afford the bailor a reasonable opportunity of taking delivery of the goods“. You also need to give them details of how to contact you.
So far as delivery of the letter is concerned, this act was passed in 1977, which was before text messaging and emails were available. It says that the letter should be sent by recorded delivery and therefore, if there is any chance that the lodger is going to come back and complain, this is what you should do. However, there is no harm in following this up with an email and text message if you wish.
If the lodger fails to respond to your letter, you can then sell or dispose of the items.
What if you don’t know where the lodger has gone to? Well, the act says that
- provided you are certain that the ‘bailor’ (lodger in your case) owns the goods and
- provided you have failed to trace or communicate with the bailor with a view to giving him the notice, after having taken reasonable steps for the purpose,
- you are entitled to sell or dispose of them.
My normal advice is to instruct a tracing company on a no trace no fee basis, and to keep the letter where they say they can’t trace him (if they do trace him, you can send the letter).
It is important however that you do not just chuck the things away. If the lodger comes back and is able to prove that the things they left behind were valuable, they will be able to sue you for compensation. Best to get someone independent to take a look at them to confirm that, for example, they are just rubbish.
Anything valuable should be sold for the best price (often selling at auction is a good idea). If the items are small, for example, jewellery, it is perhaps best not to sell them at all but just to keep them. If they are not collected within six years, then you can dispose of them safely as the lodger will no longer be able to bring any claim against you.
Make sure that you keep a careful record of everything you have done and keep it safe. Just in case.