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Abandoned Property: How to Dispose of It?

What do you do when a former tenant vacates your apartment or a rental house and leaves behind their personal possessions? Do you just throw it away? Hire someone to remove it? Or leave it be?

A lot of the questions rise on this topic, especially here in Australia where, judging by the Australian Bureau of Statistics report, more than 30% of homes are being rented.

What happens if the tenant abandons the property?

In order to avoid all possible complications, you should make clear to your tenant which actions will be considered as an abandonment and which will be considered as a simple leave for an extended period of time. In case of abandonment, the tenancy agreement comes to an end.

If the tenant owes you rent, you are entitled to compensation and you can apply to the Magistrates Court for an order to collect the compensation being owed to you.

What happens if they leave personal belongings behind?

This happens more than you know and the reasons can be multiple: the tenant doesn’t need their stuff anymore; they do not have the money to have it removed, or the necessary strength to do it themselves or they have just forgotten them in a box after they’d moved.

In such cases, local removalists have a few remedies: “You can dispose of the items which are perishable (such as food), worthless or dangerous; for all the other items you need to follow the Residential Parks Act 2007 and the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 (the Act). When we say worthless, we generally mean that the cost of the item is less valuable than the fair estimate of the cost of removal storage”, says Zachary Rook, director of Your Local Movers in Brisbane.

But what if you are dealing with the items that don’t fall under the above mentioned categories? The process is as follows:

Valuable items

According to the Residential Tenancies act, if your former tenant leaves behind items of value, you are required to store the goods for at least 60 days and give out a written notice within the first week of the storage period (if you have the forwarding address), as well as place one in the newspaper which circulates through Australia.

Abandoned documents

When we say documents, that includes official documents, correspondence, photographs, or any other documents you would want to keep yourself.

If the items left behind fall into this category, then what is required by law is to safeguard those documents over a period of 60 days ( in Victoria it is 28 days) and take reasonable steps to contact the tenant to arrange collection.

What happens with the storage/removal costs?

If the tenant decides to collect the items, the owner is entitled to compensation to cover the eventual costs associated with storage or removal. This applies to the documents as well. The payments, however, need to be reasonable.

How do you dispose of the items?

After the timeframe for safeguarding the items has expired, the items can be sold at a public auction or they can be destroyed and disposed of in any lawful manner that does not result in personal information becoming public.

What happens to the proceeds of the auction?

The money obtained in this manner can be used to cover all costs of the rent that hasn’t been paid, or to cover the costs of storage and/or removal.

What is the best way to handle the situation before it happens?

If you want to prevent the situation and save on removals and storage, the best way is to cover all eventualities in the contract. Make sure to agree with your tenant that you will not guard their possessions for 60 days, but rather a week or until you find another tenant. Let them know how you will proceed in case of owed rent, and make sure that they are fully aware of the contract they are signing. It will save you from a headache in the future.

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