What to do with abandoned property

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We regularly get enquiries about what someone can do if another person has abandoned property in someone else’s possession or on someone else’s property.

This most commonly comes up in commercial scenarios, for example when the owner of a property agrees to let someone store goods and chattels thereon in return for a fee or in the case of commercial leases whereby a lease is terminated and/or abandoned by the lessee who later refuses to remove their property from the leased premises.

The most common types of abandoned property are things like old cars and machinery because they are typically large and difficult to store and they only have a limited value, meaning the owner is often unmotivated to find an alternate storage option.

The legal disposal of abandoned goods in NSW is governed by the Uncollected Goods Act 1995.

Generally speaking, a person with someone else’s property in their possession or on their land is required to take reasonable care when dealing with the property, not to cause damage to the property and obtain the owner’s permission before the property is disposed of.

If the value of the property that has been abandoned is less than $100, you need to give the owner 28 days’ notice that you intend to dispose of the property in question. If the value is over $100 but less than $500, three months’ notice is required with six months’ notice required for abandoned property up to a value of $5,000.

For property over $5,000, you need an Order from the Local Court before disposing of abandoned property.

As you can see, it’s not as simple as just throwing the property away or taking ownership of it.

In some cases a direct application to the Local Court for a Disposal Order can negate the notice period above.

It is very important that you do not deal with another person’s property in a manner that breaches the Act.

The legislation enables the owner of property to claim compensation for goods disposed of not in accordance with the relevant legislation.

The legislation also sets out that a person who disposes of another person’s goods pursuant to the Act can recover their costs associated with same.

While the Uncollected Goods Act applies to many circumstances of abandonment of goods and chattels, other legislation applies to goods that are left with a pawnbroker, property left in residential property by a tenant under the Residential Tenancies Act and property abandoned in a retirement home.

If you’d like to discuss matters like this, don’t hesitate to contact me or my team.

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