What are the laws related to abandoned goods and its disposal? Let us examine these laws under the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 (Qld) (Act).
But before we do so, let us first find out what procedures lessors must follow when a property has been abandoned by a tenant.
Reducing the Lessor’s Loss
It is stated under Section 355 of the Act that a lessor can issue a notice (Abandonment Termination Notice) to the tenant to terminate the tenancy agreement, if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a property has been abandoned.
Now, what constitutes “Reasonable Grounds”? In Section 355(5) of the Act, it states the following:
(5) For subsection (1), reasonable grounds include the following—
(a) a failure of the tenant to pay rent under the agreement;
(b) the presence at the premises of uncollected mail, newspapers or other material;
(c) reports from neighbours of the tenant or from other persons indicating the tenant has abandoned the premises;
(d) the absence of household goods at the premises;
(e) the disconnection of services (including gas, electricity and telephone) to the premises;
(f) a failure of the tenant to respond to an entry notice.
It shall be assumed that the tenant has abandoned the property if he/she has not taken action under section 356 within 7 days of receiving the abandonment termination notice.
On the other hand, if a lessor believes that the tenant has abandoned the premises, the lessor can apply for an order to seek a declaration of abandonment to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) under section 357.
Here are the steps that a property owner should take after the termination of a property agreement by a lessor under section 355, or if an order has been obtained pursuant to section 357:
- Have the locks at the property changed. This is to prevent the previous tenants from accessing it.
- Have the property cleaned. This includes disposing of the items left behind by the previous tenant. These items will be dealt with based on certain procedures.
How to deal with abandoned goods
Once the tenancy agreement for a property is terminated and the tenant still has some belongings (with the exception of money and personal documents) left, Section 363(2) of the Act authorises the lessor to either sell the goods by auction or dispose of them. This can be done only if the lessor believes on reasonable grounds that:
- The market value of the goods is less than $1500
- The storage of the goods would be unhealthy or unsafe, or would cause a complete or substantial depreciation on the market value
- The cost of removing, storing and selling the goods would be more than the proceeds from the sale of the goods.
On the other hand, it is imperative for the lessor to organise a detailed written inventory prior to disposing of any goods (even moving any goods). The inventory should include every single item left at the property which may be owned by the tenant. It should then be dated, signed, kept on file, electronically stored and supported with extensive photographic evidence, each bearing the date upon which they were taken.
In addition to that, the lessor should take note of all the model, serial numbers, as well as the general condition of each item left at the property. As soon as the inventory has been prepared, the lessor should make an assessment to find out whether section 363 applies or not, taking into consideration the condition, quality and presumed value of the goods.
What if section 363(2) is not applicable?
In the case section 363(2) is not applicable, it is mandatory for the lessor or the property manager to store the goods for one month, where the owner (former tenant) is free to reclaim them. Ideally, the goods should not be stored in the property as it may impede or delay the process of re-letting the property and reducing the lessor’s loss. Furthermore, the lessor becomes the legal custodian of the goods by keeping them in the rental property, giving rise to a few considerations, such as whether it is important to arrange insurance for the goods. It is then recommended that the goods be stored at a secure storage facility.
It is understandable that property owners and their managers might be uncertain about acting quickly in situations where goods have been abandoned at a property. This is why it is very crucial to follow the procedures prescribed in the Act in order to avoid, or at least, minimise the risk of possible disputes and claims.