Goods left behind by renters

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If a renter leaves belongings or documents in a property at the end of a rental agreement (previously called a lease), these are called goods left behind.

The rental provider (landlord) can dispose of some goods left behind but must store others for a certain amount of time. How long the goods must be stored depends on what they are and how much they’re worth.

This also applies to goods left behind by residents vacating a rooming house or caravan park, and site tenants vacating a residential park.

On this page:

Collecting goods left behind

Renters who leave goods behind at the end of their rental agreement should contact the rental provider as soon as possible to make arrangements to collect them.

A rental provider cannot refuse to return a person’s belongings, even if:

  • the renter owes rent
  • the rental provider has a possession order (sometimes called an eviction notice).

Goods that can be disposed of immediately

Rental providers can immediately dispose of:

  • perishable foods (foods that will ‘go off’)
  • dangerous goods
  • goods not worth any money, other than personal documents and the items in the following list that must be stored for at least 14 days.

Goods that must be stored for at least 14 days

Rental providers must store the following goods in a safe place for at least 14 days:

  • goods that are able to be sold
  • labelled containers or urns containing human remains
  • specialised medical devices, equipment and goods, including prostheses and prescription medications
  • medals and trophies.

The rental provider must take reasonable steps to tell the renter that they left these goods behind. Reasonable steps means steps that most people would think are fair. Rental providers must use the Notice of goods left behind form to tell the former renter about the goods.

The 14 days starts from the date that the rental provider first tells the renter about the goods. The rental provider and the renter can agree that the goods are stored for more time.
If the renter asks the owner to store the goods for more than 14 days but the owner refuses, the renter can apply to VCAT for an order that the goods are stored for longer.

Charging renters a fee for removing and storing goods left behind

Before returning the goods to the renter, the rental provider can ask the renter to pay an ‘occupation fee’ to cover the cost of any reasonable expenses the rental provider paid to move and store the goods. An occupation fee may only be charged if there were so many goods left, or they were so big, that the rental provider couldn’t re-let the property.

The occupation fee must not be more than:

the amount of rent that the renter would have had to pay for the days the goods were stored
14 days’ rent in total.

If VCAT has ordered that the goods be stored for more than 14 days, the occupation fee must be equal to the number of days VCAT ordered the goods to be stored.

Selling or getting rid of unclaimed goods

If the renter, or another person who owns the goods, does not reclaim them within 14 days (or within an agreed timeframe, or a different timeframe set by VCAT), the rental provider can sell or get rid of the goods.

If the rental provider does sell the goods, the former renter has 6 months to claim any money made from the sale, minus the occupation fee and any costs that the rental provider had to pay to sell the goods.

If the renter does not make a claim within 6 months, the rental provider must pay the money made from the sale, minus the occupation fee and any costs for selling the goods, into the Residential Tenancies Fund. This must be done within 30 days of the end of the 6 period.

Personal documents must be stored for at least 90 days

Personal documents that are left behind by a renter must be stored in a safe place by the rental provider for at least 90 days. Personal documents include:

  • official documents
  • photographs
  • mail and other correspondence
  • images on still and video cameras
  • material on computer hard drives
  • any other documents that someone would reasonably be expected to keep.

The rental provider must take reasonable steps to let the former renter know that they left personal documents behind. Reasonable steps means steps that most people would think are fair.

The rental provider must let the former renter have the documents back once they have repaid any reasonable costs the rental provider had to pay to remove and store the documents. A rental provider can be fined for not letting a former renter reclaim documents when they were willing to pay a reasonable amount to cover those costs.

If a rental provider complies with the law and the former renter does not claim the documents, the documents can be disposed of. The rental provider can then apply to VCAT to be compensated by the former renter for the cost of looking after and removing the documents.

Compensation from VCAT

A renter can apply to VCAT for compensation from the rental provider if:

  • the rental provider destroys, sells or disposes of the former renter’s goods or personal documents without following the proper procedures (for example, if they sell or destroy personal documents less than 90 days after letting the former renter know about them)
  • the rental provider refuses to return the goods or personal documents to the renter (for example, if the former renter owes rent)
  • the rental provider deliberately damages or loses the stored goods or documents, or did not take proper care of them.

A rental provider can apply to VCAT for compensation from the former renter if:

  • they have had to pay money to remove, store or sell the goods
  • the costs of storing the goods is more than the occupation fee they would otherwise be allowed to charge.

Forms you might need

To let a former renter know that they have left goods or personal documents behind after vacating a property, you must use this form:

Sections of the Act

If you want to know what the law says about goods left behind, you can read these sections of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997:

  • Part 9 – Goods left behind by renters, residents and site tenants.