Disposing of uncollected goods and goods left behind by former tenants is a complicated process under property law. This post is designed to help you understand the steps you need to take.
Uncollected goods under property law
What are uncollected goods?
Examples of uncollected goods are pieces of property that are:
- Ready to be collected because the agreed period of storage has ended, or
- Ready to be collected because the good has been repaired, and
- The person or business storing the good doesn’t know who is responsible for the property (usually the owner), or
- The person or business storing the good cannot trace or communicate with the person responsible for the property.
The property law that regulates the disposal of uncollected goods in New South Wales is the Uncollected Goods Act 1995 (NSW).
The Act applies to goods for which there is no agreement for disposal that have been left in the possession in someone other than the owner for:
- Paid storage
- Storage out of goodwill (for example, for a friend)
- By accident (for example, someone you don’t know has left their car on your property, or you’ve found someone’s wallet and want to return it)
How can you get rid of uncollected goods under property law?
If the good is worth less than $100:
- Give the owner 28 days’ verbal or written notice of your intention to dispose of the goods .
- If the owner hasn’t replied or collected the goods after 28 days, you can dispose of the goods as you see fit.
If the good is worth more than $100 but less than $500:
- Give the owner and anyone else that you know has an interest in the goods 3 months’ written notice of your intention to dispose of the goods.
- If you don’t receive a response or the goods aren’t collected within 3 months, you can dispose of the goods only by public auction, or private sale for fair value.
If the good is worth more than $500 but less than $5000:
- Give the owner and anyone else that has an interest in the goods 6 months’ written notice of your intention to dispose of the goods.
- Publish a copy of the notice in a daily newspaper circulating generally throughout NSW at least 28 days before the 6 months notice has finished.
- If you don’t receive a response or the goods aren’t collected within 6 months, you can dispose of the goods only by way of public auction.
If the good is a perishable item:
- Give the owner reasonable verbal or written notice of your intention to dispose of the goods.
- If the goods haven’t been collected after a reasonable amount of notice, which depends on the nature and condition of the goods, you can dispose of them how you see fit.
When you don’t need to give notice under property law
You won’t be liable for not giving notice if:
- You can’t find a person to give notice to; or
- If someone has an interest in the goods that you aren’t aware of.
Disposing by way of court order
You have to make an application to the Local Court to dispose of goods where:
- The goods have a value of $5000 or greater; or
- There is a dispute between the owner of the goods and the person who has the goods in regards to:
- The amount of any charge for storage or repairs of the goods, or
- The condition of the goods, the nature of the repairs or other work done in connection with the goods.
Proceeds of the sale of uncollected goods
Contrary to popular belief, under property law, you aren’t allowed to keep any profits from the disposal of goods. You may keep an amount of money equivalent to your storage, repair, disposal and other costs you incurred because of the good.
Any money on top of this must go to the Chief Commissioner of State Revenue. You can contact the Office of State Revenue for more information.
If the proceeds from the sale don’t cover your costs, you may treat the outstanding amount as a debt and follow the relevant procedures to claim that debt. This could be by serving a Letter of Demand and then making a claim in the Small Claims Division of the Local Court if you have disposed of the good without already going to the Local Court.
Record keeping – Property law requirements
You must also make a record of disposing the goods within 7 days of their disposal. In that record, you must include the following information:
- A description of the goods disposed of,
- The date on which you disposed of the goods,
- The manner in which you disposed of the goods,
- If you sold the goods privately:
- The name and address of the person to whom they were sold,
- The amount of you sold the goods for, and
- The amount of money you kept to cover your costs,
- If the goods were sold by public auction, the name and address of the principle place of business of the auctioneer who sold the goods.
You must keep this record for 6 years and show it to the former owner of the goods if they request it.
Uncollected motor vehicles
Depending on the value of the motor vehicle, you may be able to dispose of it by giving notice or you may have to apply to the Local Court.
In either case, before you dispose of the vehicle, you must obtain a certificate from the Commissioner of Police stating that the motor vehicle is not for the time being recorded as being stolen.
Additionally, if you apply to the Local Court to dispose of the vehicle, you will also need a written search result in relation to the vehicle. This is sometimes referred to as a PPSR check.
Goods left behind by a tenant
There are different laws that apply to disposal of goods left behind by tenants. The property law that governs this is called the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW).
If you are the landlord and you want to dispose of goods that a former tenant has left behind, firstly you must make sure that the tenancy has ended. Then you can dispose of any rubbish or perishable items straight away.
For all other items, you must give the former tenant notice of your intention to dispose of the goods. You can do this in writing, in person or over the telephone. If you cannot find the former tenant, you can leave a written notice in a prominent position on the premises (for example, stuck to the front door). If the goods are obviously leased, then you should also contact the rental company.
Goods of value
Any items of value such as furniture, white goods, clothing or appliances need to be stored in a safe place for at least 14 days after you have given the tenant notice.
If the former tenant hasn’t collected the goods after 14 days you can:
- Donate the goods to charity,
- Lawfully dispose of the goods (for example, by taking them to your local waste management centre),
- Keep the goods in the property for use by future tenants, or
- Sell the goods for fair value (but any proceeds go to the former tenant, and if the former tenant hasn’t claimed the money after 6 years, it should be sent to the Office of State Revenue).
Personal documents under property law
Personal documents could be:
- Identification documents such as a birth certificate or passport,
- Financial documents,
- Photographs and memorabilia such as medals and trophies, or
- Licences and qualifications.
You must keep personal goods in a safe place for at least 90 days after you give the former tenant notice.
If the former tenant hasn’t claimed the personal documents after 90 days, then you can dispose of them appropriately such as by returning them to the issuing authority or by shredding them.
Former tenant reclaiming goods
The former tenant can claim the goods for as long as they are in your possession. You cannot refuse to return the items, even if they owe you money.
If the former tenant left behind so many goods that it prevented you from renting the premises, you can charge an occupation fee. The occupation fee is equal to one day’s rent per day that the goods remain in your possession. You can charge the fee for up to 14 days only (even if you keep the goods for longer than 14 days).
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