NSW Does head tenant in share house legally own abandoned goods?

Discussion in 'Property Law Forum' started by TCCCC, 5 November 2018.

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  1. TCCCC

    TCCCC Member

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    The head tenant in our share house is moving out and taking a couch set that was left behind by a previous tenant. I did not live in the house when the original owner left, however the couches have remained in the house for a significant time (at least 3 years). I have lived in the house the past 3 years, and the previous owner of the couches tried last year to take back ownership of them so she could sell them. However, it's my understanding that the couches are not her property anymore as they've been left at the house for over a year.

    The head tenant thinks she is entitled to ownership of the couches and thus, can take them, however I and other house mates disagree (they have lived at the house for the past 1-2 years). She has said that the original owner left the couches to her, however has presented no proof.

    Ideally we'd like the couches left at the house, however have also said we'd come to a compromise that she can reimburse us a portion of the sale value of the couches which we can put towards purchasing new furniture for the house.

    Does the head tenant have legal ownership of the couches? And if not is there any way i can stop her taking the couches when she moves out?
     
  2. Scruff

    Scruff Well-Known Member

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    No.
    No - you don't own them either. The only person with any rights here is the former tenant who is the legal owner of the property.
    Irrelevant - that does not give ownership to anyone else.

    The NSW Residential Tenancies Act does not provide any rights for a tenant or occupier to take posession of another person's property that is left behind after they vacate the residence. A landlord however, may dispose of that property after taking the required steps (namely issuing a disposal notice).

    Section 132 states: "A person who is entitled to possession of goods may claim the goods at any time before they are disposed of." Landlords have some rights regarding occupation and storage fees, but even for landlords, there is no right to ownership. Since the landlord is not involved in this case and no notice of disposal has been issued, there is no question of ownership.

    The couch is the legal property of the former tenant - who by the way, has already attempted to collect it and has every right to take enforcement action.
     
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  3. Rod

    Rod Well-Known Member
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    Keep in mind the Uncollected Goods Act NSW and the common law of bailment can apply in these circumstances.
     
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  4. Scruff

    Scruff Well-Known Member

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    That's what I love about this forum - whenever my comments fall short, one of the experts comes along and fills the gap, and I learn something new. Thanks Rod.
    I'd never heard of the Uncollected Goods Act ("UGA"), but after a quick read, I am curious and have a couple of questions for you.

    1. Am I correct that for the UGA to apply, there would have to be an agreement in place (formal or informal) between the parties?
    2. If the UGA was applicable to this particular case, the former tenant would be the bailor and retains ownership because (I'm assuming this from the little info we have) there was never any attempt to serve a notice of disposal. Would that be correct?

    The reason I ask is that it appears that the head tenant claimed that the property was gifted to her but has no proof of this, however the former tenant tried to collect the property a year ago and was obviously unsuccessful. So we have conflicting stories in that they both appear to be claiming ownership, but neither appears to claiming that the property was abandoned.

    So the way I understand things, is that if the head tenant is claiming ownership, then the onus is on her to prove it. Since the OP says she can't do that, the only person who could be the legal owner is the former tenant. If that is the case, then wouldn't there have to be some kind of bailment agreement in place for the UGA to apply?

    The OP wasn't there 3 years ago when the former tenant left, but maybe they could shed some light on what happened a year ago when the former tenant (unsuccessfully) tried to get the property back. Was there a dispute over ownership on that day and if so, was it resolved by one party conceding or was it left unresolved? I think that what happened on that day is particularly relevant.
     
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  5. Rod

    Rod Well-Known Member
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    1. yes, and one likely exists between the couch owner and head tenant.

    2. yes

    The new tenants cannot claim ownership of the couches. The owner of the couches should not have been denied access and could initiate court action against those holding the couches illegally.

    The new tenants also cannot legally stop the head tenant taking the couches as the new tenants have no authority from the couches owner, and in fact seem to deny the owner possession of their property.

    The owner can assert ownership against either party unless notice has been given and time limit passed.
     
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  6. Scruff

    Scruff Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Rod, thought as much. Always enjoy learning new things. :)
     
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