What To Do When Tenants Vacate And Leave Their Possessions Behind

Currently in Australia, around 35% of households are rentals. Most of the people in these rentals observe the conditions of their rental agreements, paying their rent on time and treating the properties with respect. Of the small proportion that do not, some simply abandon their rental and their possessions, often leaving no forwarding details.

Breaking the News to the Owners

These actions create a significant problem for the rental agents. First, they have to advise the property owner that the tenant has gone, possibly owing rent. Then they have to explain that, by leaving their possessions behind, the property must remain vacant until due process has taken place.

Fortunately, at our agency, this does not happen often, as our tenant selection process is quite rigorous and includes employment and reference checks. However, after all our years at Bunbury Real Estate we expect the unexpected and have procedures in place to deal with these situations.

In Western Australia, there is a legal process that must be followed to clear the property for the next tenants. The first move is easy, as we are permitted to dispose of perishable foodstuffs within two days. After that, it gets a little more complicated.

State Government Certificates and Official Notices Required

We then assess the estimated value of the remainder to separate them into “goods of little or no value” and “goods of value”. For the former, we apply to the state government for an Abandoned Goods Certificate. This protects us from any claims by the tenants should they return to collect their possessions. We must give the department the details of the tenants and the property, as well as an itemised list and colour photographs. We then wait for official notice that we can dispose of the property.

Agents Required to Safely Store Goods of Value

For goods of value, and important documents, we must immediately arrange to store them in a safe place and manner for at least 60 days. Using the appropriate departmental forms, we must notify the tenant at their last known contact address of our intent concerning their property. We must also advertise this intention in a state wide newspaper. This allows someone with a legal right to the goods to collect them within 60 days.

Auction of Unclaimed Goods Permitted after Due Process

If the goods are not claimed within 60 days, we have the legal right to sell them on auction, and recover any removal, storage and sale costs. We then pay any balance through the Magistrates Court to the Rental Accommodation Fund, discharging our liability. If we are owed back rent or damages from the tenancy, we can make a claim from this deposit.

This process is fair to everyone, including the property owner, who can have the property tenanted again after 60 days. No agent can just seize abandoned property as compensation. This legal process protects everyone involved, and any ongoing disputes are settled in court.