How to dispose of goods on your premises that don’t belong to you
There are sometimes issues for property owners when items are left on their premises that don’t belong to them which need to be disposed of. This might happen when you buy or lease premises or store items.
The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 sets out how to remove these items and avoid repercussions.
Any goods left at your premises still belong to original owner. This applies when you buy a property and items are left in the property (not fixtures), you obtain a possession order, forfeit a lease, the tenant surrenders the tenancy or items are left at your premises to look after but are not picked up. The simple removal of belongings without consent would be unlawful.
If goods are left in the property a full inventory should be taken, photographs of the property and its contents should be taken and an estimate of the value of the goods left behind should also be recorded (preferably by somebody independent). A commercial decision should be taken based on what is left behind. If the goods are disposed of and subsequently turn out to be of value, you may be subject to a claim for damages.
Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977
The owner or the premises becomes an ‘involuntary bailee’, having acquired goods left at the property which belong to another. The 1977 Act permits you to dispose of goods left behind as long as the correct procedures are followed.
The Act requires you to take care of the goods and make reasonable arrangements to trace the owner so that their goods can be returned to them. Notice should be served in accordance with the Act requiring the true owner of the goods to come and collect them. The notice should be sent to the owner if the address is known and in any event attached to the property so that it can be clearly seen.
The notice will need to state the following:
- where the goods are being kept
- where sale of the items will take place (if appropriate)
- if items are sold, sale and storage costs will be deducted from the proceeds of sale
- list the goods that remain
Reasonable time must be provided to collect the goods. If all reasonable steps have been taken to contact the owner of the goods and the notice has expired, you can dispose of the goods. If the goods are sold, any proceeds of sale that remain, after deducting storage costs and debt that may be owed, must be returned to the former owner.
If the steps outlined above are not taken, you may find yourself open to an action for conversion (a civil action for damages for selling or using another person’s property). This can be costly and time consuming so it is important to ensure that the steps above are taken and evidence of doing so is carefully recorded.
If you require advice on this or any other litigation matter please contact Rutherfords LLP or view the litigation page on our website https://www.rutherfordslegal.com/litigation-disputes/
Steve Wengraf – Solicitor and Partner
Hayden Mellowship – Solicitor