Spring cleaning with the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977

17 March 2023

A landlord may often find themselves in the unfortunate position where their tenant has vacated the property but left some of their belongings.  A common (and perhaps understandable) first instinct is simply to dispose of those belongings and re-let the property.  But can the landlord do that?  This article explores the law of 'bailment', why the above approach may not always be the correct one, and why landlords should always proceed with caution.


What is bailment?  This area of law deals with the relationship between two parties were one party (a 'bailor') gives their goods (or 'chattels') to someone else (a 'bailee') to look after.  More often than not, the bailment is voluntary; in other words, the bailee has consented to look after the goods.  A typical example is where a person (the bailor) will leave their car at the garage (the bailee) to be repaired. 

A similar relationship may arise when a tenant leaves its possessions behind at the end of the tenancy.  In these circumstances however, the landlord has not consented to looking after the tenant's belongings, and is therefore considered to be an involuntary bailee. 

The obligations on an involuntary bailee are exceptionally limited.  These duties extend to acting reasonably in respect of the goods and not to sell, dispose of or allow another person to take them.

Unless the landlord has some other right to deal with the goods, then if the landlord breaches any of these duties (for example by disposing of the tenant's belongings), then the tenant could potentially bring a claim against the landlord under the tort of conversion.


So, what are the landlord's options?   Depending on the circumstances, there may be up to three avenues available to the landlord, which we explore below. 

  1. Abandonment

The tenant may have abandoned its goods.  Generally speaking, if the goods have really been been abandoned, the landlord is able to dispose of them without further notice or liability.  However, the big difficulty for the landlord will be proving that the goods have actually been abandoned.  There is always a risk that a tenant who has not signalled its intention either way will claim in due course that the goods were not abandoned, which could lead to a claim against it in the tort of conversion. 

  1. Express term in the lease

The lease or tenancy may contain an express term entitling the landlord to dispose of any belongings which the tenant has left behind at the end of the tenancy.  In these circumstances, the landlord can simply deal with the goods in accordance with the lease. 

  1. Rights under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 ("TIGA")

In the absence of an express right under the lease, the landlord may be entitled to rely on rights given to it under TIGA.In this regard the landlord can serve a notice or notices (as the case may be) as follows:

3.1 notice imposing an obligation on the tenant to take delivery of (or to collect) the goods; and/or

3.2 a notice of the landlord's intention to sell the goods.

The effect of serving such notices under TIGA is that once the relevant notice period has expired the landlord will be free either to dispose of or sell the goods (as prescribed by the notice). 

In either case the landlord should undertake reasonable efforts to contact/trace the tenant.

A notice imposing an obligation on the tenant to take delivery (or to collect) goods must:

  • Specify the bailee's name and address.
  • Give particulars of the goods and the address at which they are held.
  • State that the goods are ready for delivery to the bailor.
  • Specify the amount, if any, due to the bailee in respect of the goods before giving the notice.

A notice of intention to sell the goods must:

  • Specify the bailee's name and address.
  • Give sufficient particulars of the goods and the address or place where they are held.
  • Specify the date on or after which the bailee proposes to sell the goods.
  • Specify the amount, if any, due to the bailee in respect of the goods before the giving of the notice.

Where goods are to be sold on expiry of the notice, the sale should be handled in the most appropriate way possible so that the landlord can rebut any claims that the goods were not sold for their full value. In either case the landlord should prepare a full schedule of the items to be sold or disposed of so that they may use this as evidence at a later date, (should they need it).A landlord should also consider attaching photographs of the property to the schedule. Whilst unlikely, landlords should not discount the possibility that a former tenant might claim that it had stuffed the old worn-out couch left at the property full of £50 notes but forgotten to remove them on leaving the property!Landlords will be best advised to avoid the risk of this situation arising in the first place by carrying out a detailed schedule.

The landlord must then account to the tenant for any proceeds of sale, less any amounts costs incurred in doing so.  Where the tenant is not traceable the landlord should retain the sale proceeds for a reasonable period of time.

As always however, the best solution is to prevent the issue occurring in the first place and by ensuring the landlord has express rights to deal with any belongings at the end of the tenancy.   Where that is not possible and the landlord must rely on serving a TIGA notice, we recommend the landlord (or its agent) takes the time to inspect the property as soon as possible after the tenant has moved out to ensure it knows what has been left behind and then to serve notice. 

If you have any further questions about the issues raised in this article, please get in touch with a member of our Property Litigation Team here.  Similarly, if you need help with drafting an agreement, a member of our Property Team will be able to help.

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