If goods or documents are left in a rented premises after a rental agreement has ended, the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic) (‘RT Act’) imposes obligations on the rental provider regarding those goods and documents. It is paramount that renters takes photos of their personal goods, possessions and documents. It is preferable to remove as much property as possible rather than leave them in the rented premises.
Further, it is generally recommended that if a renter is excluded from the premises by reasons of the execution of a warrant of possession or any other reasons, and if a party wishes to regain access to collect their goods and documents, they should make an urgent application to VCAT, pursuant to section 397 of the RT Act, if the rental provider refuses access. Renters’ goods cannot be taken for rent owed (s 49).
If the rental provider disposes of, destroys or sells the renter’s goods or documents, and has not complied with the abandoned goods provisions (pt 9 RT Act), the renter or another person who has a lawful right to the goods or documents can apply to VCAT for compensation (s 396) (see ‘Compensation claims related to tenancy‘).
Destruction and disposal of goods
Once a renter has vacated a rental property, a rental provider may only remove and destroy or dispose of goods if they are of no monetary value, or are perishable foodstuffs, or are dangerous (s 384(1) RT Act).
However, the rental provider must store goods – even if they are of no monetary value, are dangerous or perishable – for at least 14 days if they are ‘protected goods’. Protected goods are medals or trophies; specialised medical devises and equipment (including prostheses); prescription medicine; and labelled containers or urns containing human remains (ss 384, 386; reg 93).
Notification of goods
A rental provider must take reasonable steps to notify a renter that their belongings have been stored, explain how the renter can get their belongings, and what rights the renter has in relation to their goods (s 386(1), 386(2) RT Act). To do this, rental providers can use CAV’s ‘Notice of Goods Left Behind’ form (available at www.consumer.vic.gov.au).
Storage of goods
If goods are not to be destroyed or disposed of, the rental provider must store the goods for at least 14 days; this time period begins the day the renter is given the Notice of Goods Left Behind (s 386(1) RT Act). A rental provider may remove a renter’s goods from the rental premises and store them in a safe place (s 386(3)). A renter can ask the rental provider to store the goods for more than 14 days; if the rental provider refuses, the renter can apply to VCAT for an order to compel the rental provider to do so (s 395).
Claiming stored goods
The renter or owner of the goods may reclaim them at any time before they are destroyed or disposed of (s 387(1) RT Act).
Before returning the goods, a rental provider is permitted to require the renter or owner of the goods to pay an ‘occupation fee’ for the number of days they stored the goods (s 387(2) RT Act). This is only the case if the amount of goods left behind stops the rental provider from renting the property. At the time of writing, there is no case law to indicate what amount of goods would prevent a premises from being rented.
The daily occupation fee must not be more than the daily rent (s 388). However, if the occupation fee is not sufficient to cover the cost of storing the goods, a rental provider can apply to VCAT to charge the renter of owner of the goods a higher fee (ss 395A, 401(b)).
Sale or disposal of goods
After 14 days – plus any extra days agreed to or ordered by VCAT – a rental provider may sell or dispose of the goods if they have not been reclaimed (s 391 RT Act). If the goods are sold, the renter or owner of the goods can ask for the money from the sale, minus any occupation fee and less reasonable costs for arranging the sale (s 392(1)). This request needs to be made within six months of the sale (s 392(2)). If the renter or owner of the goods does not make a request for the proceeds of the sale within this time, any money left over will be paid to the Residential Tenancies Fund (s 392(3)).
The RT Act (s 3) defines personal documents as ‘official documents, photographs, correspondence or any other document which it would be reasonable to expect that a person would want to keep’. An extended definition of ‘document’ is provided in section 38 of the Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 (Vic). The definition in that Act is very broad and includes books, photographs, film and audio CDs. It is likely that is should also include computers, smart phones, hard-disks and USBs.
If a renter leaves behind personal documents, the rental provider must take reasonable care of them for at least 90 days (s 380 RT Act). The rental provider may remove the documents from the rental premises but must not destroy or dispose of them (s 380). Reasonable steps to notify the renter as to how they can collect the documents must be made (s 380). If, after 90 days the owner of the documents has not reclaimed them, the rental provider may dispose of the documents provided there is no other law requiring that they be dealt with in another manner (s 381).
The owner of the documents may reclaim them at any time before they are disposed of. Before returning the documents, the rental provider is permitted to require the owner of the documents to pay the reasonable costs of the rental provider notifying the renter, removing the documents from the premises, and taking care of the documents (s 382 RT Act). If there is a dispute about these costs, renters should apply to VCAT under section 397 of the RT Act.
If the rental provider does not follow the law
Belongings not returned
If – after a renter has paid any required costs or fees – a rental provider refuses to return a renter’s goods or documents, the renter can apply to VCAT for an order that the rental provider returns the items, or for an order that the rental provider has to pay the renter compensation (s 397 RT Act).
Belongings are lost, disposed of or damaged
If a rental provider loses, disposes of, or damages a renter’s goods or personal documents, either on purpose or by accident, the renter can apply to VCAT for compensation (s 398 RT Act).
If a rental provider destroys, disposes of, or sells a renter’s goods or personal documents without following the steps in the law, the renter can apply to VCAT for compensation (s 396 RT Act).