As of 1 July 2020, the rules have changed regarding how landlords must deal with items left behind in a rental property by a tenant. There are some quite significant changes from July to the rights of landlords and tenants when goods have been left behind, which we will detail below.
What Are Uncollected Goods?
Firstly, it is important to understand how "uncollected goods" is defined. Goods may become uncollected if they're left or abandoned with someone who isn't the owner, or if they're lost. Most importantly in the property management space, goods are deemed uncollected goods when left behind by tenants, residents or anyone sharing with a tenant at the end of a tenancy or other occupancy.
The Uncollected Goods Act 1995 gives the person in possession of the goods the right to dispose of them after a certain amount of time. The amount of time and manner of disposal depends on the type and value of the goods.
While the owner of the goods is responsible for them, if they do not take action to regain possession the goods may be lawfully sold or destroyed if proper processes are followed.
What Happens If A Tenant Leaves Goods Behind At A Property?
As summarised on the NSW Fair Trading Uncollected Goods page, if goods are left with you, you have a duty to safeguard them for the owner (in this case, the tenant).
The owner of the goods, or anybody with a legal interest in the goods, can reclaim the items at any time while they are in your possession.
You can ask for any actual costs you’ve incurred in removing, storing, maintaining or insuring the goods. However, you can’t refuse to return the belongings because the owner owes rent or money for another reason.
If you follow the required processes, you can dispose of the goods after a certain amount of time. The amount of time and manner of disposal depends on the value and type of goods.
1. Notice Must Be Given To The Owner To Collect The Goods
You can give the owner of the goods notice personally, by letter or email. The notice must include:
2. What If You Can't Contact The Owner Of The Goods?
You should make reasonable efforts to identify the owner of the goods and communicate with them.
If this isn't possible, you should store the goods for the relevant period (outlined below) and sell or dispose of them once the period has ended.
3. What Money Can You Keep If You Sell The Goods?
You are entitled to retain the amount of the costs that you incur for removal, storage, maintenance, insurance and disposal of the goods.
These charges should not include any profit. They should only reflect the actual cost to you or the business while the goods are ‘uncollected’. No charges are due for personal documents.
Any money made above those costs should go to the Chief Commissioner of Revenue NSW if you cannot return the money to the owner.
4. Can a Landlord Charge An Occupation Fee for Uncollected Goods?
A very important change from the pre-July 2020 rules, landlords can no longer charge tenants an ‘occupation fee’ equal to the rent for each day goods are left on their premises once a residential tenancy ends.
You can only charge a tenant for the actual costs incurred to remove, store, maintain, insure and dispose of goods. No other charges are due.
Prior to July 2020, if enough goods were left at the property to prevent it from being rented, an occupation fee (equal to a day’s rent) could be charged for each day the goods are held, whether they are stored on the premises or elsewhere, up to maximum of 14 days. This is no longer the case.
5. What Information Do You Need to Keep?
With the exception of rubbish and perishable items, you must make a record within 7 days of disposing of all goods which includes the following:
How long you need to keep records depends on the value. If the item was low value, you should keep the records for 12 months. For all other goods, you should keep records for 6 years. The owner or another person claiming interest in the goods can inspect the records on request.
How And When You Can Dispose Of Goods Left Behind By A Tenant
How you can dispose of the goods depends on the value and the type of good. There are separate provisions for rubbish, perishables and personal documents, as summarised in the table below.
Note that Personal documents are goods that may have a very low or no market value but may be important to the owner. They include:
You can’t dispose of a motor vehicle unless you have obtained a certificate from the Commissioner of Police and a written search result from the Personal Property Securities Register that confirms the vehicle is not stolen.
After this certificate has been issued and the search completed, follow the above guidelines.
Uncollected motor vehicles can be moved or stored in an appropriate manner and the circumstances meet the criteria of the Act. For example, a strata scheme can only move a motor vehicle left on common property if it is reasonably believed to have been abandoned.
NCAT Should Be Contacted for More Information
The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) has jurisdiction relating to the Uncollected Goods Act and should be contacted for more information or if there is a dispute.
Additional information may be found on the NSW Fair Trading Uncollected Goods page.
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