When tenants leave a rental property, they sometimes also leave behind their items. Some of these may be valuable. Here at CPLEA, we have heard of tenants leaving behind their household items ranging from clothing, kitchen utensils, and television sets to even larger items like cars, trailers and tractors. In Alberta, the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) sets out what a landlord can do if tenants leave their items behind. Here are a couple of things to consider under the RTA when it comes to dealing with items left behind by your tenant:
1) Are the items “abandoned goods”?
The RTA defines “abandoned goods” as goods which are left at the rental premises in 3 different situations:
- When the tenant abandons the rental premises.
- When the tenant has left after the tenancy has expired.
- When the tenant has left after the tenancy has been terminated.
Whether a tenant has indeed abandoned the rental premise is fact specific. Some reasons why a landlord may think that the tenant has abandoned the rental premises include:
- The rent has not been paid.
- The tenant’s mail is no longer delivered to the premises or is not being picked up by the tenant.
- The utilities have been disconnected.
- The landlord does not see or hear from the tenant for a long period of time, despite multiple attempts to contact them.
Sometimes, there may be signs that a tenant has abandoned the property but has not actually done so – in such a situation, you may face some severe consequences if you dispose of your tenant’s items. If you are unsure as to whether your tenant abandoned the premises, it is prudent for you to seek legal advice before dealing with his or her items.
2) How much are the abandoned goods worth?
If you (the landlord) believe that the goods have a market value of less than $2,000, you may dispose of them.
If you believe that the goods have a market value of $2,000 or more, you must follow a different procedure depending on the circumstances. You can sell the goods valued at $2,000 or more in the following circumstances:
- It would be unsanitary or unsafe to store the goods.
- The value of the goods would rapidly deteriorate in storage.
- The cost to remove, store and sell the goods would be more than what you can sell them for.
If the goods are worth more than $2,000 and none of the above circumstances apply, you must keep the items in storage for 30 days after the date that your tenant abandoned them. After 30 days, you can then sell the goods at a public auction or by private sale. In order to sell the goods by private sale, you must have the approval of the court.
Tips: The market value of an item is the amount that it can be sold for in an open market. To ascertain market value for an item, landlords can do the following:
- research the internet looking for comparable items and prices
- check with various retail stores, auction houses, auctioneers and second hand stores
Landlords should always keep written records on the market value of any abandoned goods. If a dispute ever arises over abandoned goods, landlords must be able to prove their belief in the market value of the goods.
Once you sell the goods by private sale or by action, you can use the money to reimburse yourself for the costs of moving, storing or selling the goods. You can also use the money to pay yourself back for things that the tenant didn’t pay, such as unpaid rent or damage to the property as long as you follow the requirements in the RTA regulations (for example, preparing an affidavit or statement sworn under oath and sending it to the tenant and the Director of Residential Tenancies).
If there is any money left over after you have paid yourself back, you must pay the money to the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Finance keeps it for one year and the tenant can claim the money during that time. After a year, the tenant can no longer claim the money and it becomes part of government revenue.
If, however, the items do not sell at a public auction or by private sale, then you can dispose of them.
3) What if the tenant returns to get the goods?
A tenant can return to get the goods as long as you have not already disposed or sold them under the RTA rules. If you spent money on moving and storing the items and you still have the goods, the tenant can reimburse you for those expenses. Once the tenant reimburses you for those expenses, you must return the goods.
If, however, you have already sold or disposed of the goods by following the RTA rules when the tenant returns for them, the tenant cannot force you to give back the goods or force you to pay for the value of the goods.
4) Keep records of any storage, disposal or sale for at least three years
You must keep a record of any abandoned goods that you deal with for at least three years after they were sold, returned to the tenant or disposed of. The record must include the following details:
- A description of the goods.
- Where and how long you stored the goods.
- If you returned the goods to the tenant, the details of when you returned the goods and how much you claimed for removal and storage costs.
- If you sold the goods, the details of the sale including:
- Where you sold the goods
- How much you sold them for
- How much you claimed for the costs of removal, storage, sale and amounts owed by the tenant
- How much you sent to the Minister of Finance (if any)
- If you did not sell the goods or return them to the tenant, the details of how you disposed of them.
If you fail to keep a record of the goods, you can be found guilty of an offence and fined for up to $5,000.
The final word
Depending on your situation, you may also have different obligations under the law. For example, if a collection agency or similar organization has already gone to court and received permission to seize your tenant’s abandoned items, the rules for you to dispose of the abandoned property under the RTA do not apply.
The law on abandoned goods is complex. It is always a good idea for landlords to understand their responsibilities under the law and seek legal advice on how to appropriately deal with goods left on the premises.
This article is for general information purposes only and is not meant as legal advice. If you require legal advice, please consult a lawyer.