This is Sound Advice for Landlords, a podcast project for small-scale landlords across Ontario. Sound Advice offers information on a range of topics and issues related to residential tenancies. Through one-on-one interviews with experts, landlords learn more about their rights and responsibilities. A transcript for each podcast is posted to our web site.

I’m Susan Wankiewicz and in this podcast we discuss Tenants’ Belongings. We’re speaking with Alda Pereira about tenants’ belongings that are left behind when a tenant leaves a rental unit.  Alda is a Community Legal Worker at Landlord’s Self-Help Centre and routinely speaks with landlords about these issues.

Alda, I would imagine that when a tenant moves out some belongings are left behind, does this happen often?
It is a common problem, this happens so frequently that the Residential Tenancies Act establishes rules about how to handle different situations.

What are some of the more bizarre items that have been left behind by tenants?
Boats, vehicles, animals, in one case dentures and on another occasion a bear was left.

Can you break down the key situations involving belongings? And then we’ll discuss each one of them.
There are three situations involving belongings including when a unit is vacated after a notice has been given; when a rental unit is abandoned; and when a tenant dies.

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The first of the three situations that we’ll discuss is what happens to the belongings left behind when a rental unit is vacated after notice.
If the tenant has moved out based on a notice given by the tenant or a notice given to the tenant by the landlord; or both the landlord and the tenant agree to terminate the tenancy; or the landlord obtained an order from the Landlord and Tenant Board to terminate the tenancy.

What are the rules?
If the tenant leaves any belongings behind, the landlord is allowed to sell, retain or dispose of the belongings immediately.

How does it differ if the sheriff is involved?
Well, once the sheriff has performed the eviction and the tenant leaves belongings behind, the landlord can remove the belongings and move it to another location, which must be close to the rental unit. The tenant is allowed to retrieve the belongings within 72 hours after the eviction. The landlord must make the tenant’s property available to be retrieved by the tenant between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm.

In a situation where the sheriff has been involved and the landlord is required to make the belongings available after the eviction, what happens if the landlord is unable to accommodate that requirement?
The tenant could file an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board if the landlord does not allow the tenant access to their belongings within the 72 hour period or if the landlord sells, keeps or disposes of the property before the 72 hours have passed.

And what is the possible outcome from an application like that?
The Board could issue an order with any one of the following:

  • Order the landlord not breach his obligation again.
  • The second possibility to order the landlord that the landlord return the property to the former tenant if the landlord still has it in his possession.
  • The third possibility is the Board could order that the landlord pay the former tenant reasonable costs that they incurred or will incur in repairing or replacing their property that was damaged, destroyed or disposed of by the landlord.
  • The fourth possibility would be any other reasonable out of pocket expenses the former tenant incurred or will incur as a result of the landlord’s actions.

And I’m guessing the last one is going to involve a fine!
It does. The Board could impose an administrative fine of up to $10,000.

Tenants have another option.
Yes, the other option for the tenant is to file a complaint with the Investigations and Enforcement Unit of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

And what is the process for resolving that complaint?
They would then conduct an investigation and the landlord could be taken to court.  And, on conviction, the landlord could be fined up to $25,000.

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We’re speaking with Alda Pereira about belongings that are left behind when a tenant leaves a rental unit.  Alda is a Community Legal Worker at Landlord’s Self-Help Centre and routinely speaks with landlords about these issues. 

Alda, let’s move on to the situation of abandonment. Can you explain what abandonment is?
Well, abandonment is when the tenant has moved out without providing any notice to the landlord or without getting any notice from the landlord. Sometimes it’s difficult for a landlord to determine whether the tenant has abandoned the unit, especially when there are  belongings left behind.

How does a landlord determine abandonment?
Well, the landlord has to consider a few factors before assuming abandonment, for example: if the tenant has not been seen in the unit for quite some time; neighbours saw the tenant moving out; the mail is not being picked up ; etc. However, a rental unit is not considered abandoned if the tenant is not in arrears of rent.

Once the landlord has taken the steps to legally protect themselves by making the abandonment assumption, when can they get rid of food that’s been left in the refrigerator?
Well in that case the landlord is allowed to dispose of any unsafe or unhygienic items immediately.

And what are the rules for other belongings that have been left behind?
The landlord can do one of two things.  The first would be to file an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board for an order terminating the tenancy based on abandonment.  Once the order is issued, the landlord must wait 30 days before disposing of the belongings.

The other option is the landlord can give notice to the tenant and to the Board of his intention to dispose of the belongings.  There is no form to use in this case, it should be in a letter and sent to the tenant’s new address. If the landlord does not have the tenant’s new address, it can be sent to the tenant last known address. The letter must advise the tenant that he or she has 30 days to retrieve their belongings.

How can the landlord recover money that is owed for unpaid rent, damage or the cost of storing the belongings?
The landlord can sell the property to recover the money that is owed to him.

What happens if the tenant comes back three months later and the landlord has already had a yard sale and disposed of the belongings?
Well, the Residential Tenancies Act states that if within six months the tenant returns for their belongings, and the landlord has sold the belongings, the landlord will have to give the tenant the proceeds of the sale after deducting any arrears of rent as well as the cost of storing, moving and securing the belongings.

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We’re speaking with Alda Pereira, and she’s a Community Legal Worker from Landlord’s Self-Help Centre and we’re talking about belongings that are left behind when a tenant leaves a rental unit.  

Alda, the last of the three key situations related to belongings left behind involve the death of a tenant and the landlords responsibility for their belongings.  How often does this happen?
Occasionally, we do receive inquiries from landlords in this situation.  A new rule was brought into place by the Residential Tenancies Act which addresses situations where the tenant has died and left behind a spouse or a partner who has also occupied the unit as their primary residence.

Why would there need to be rules for that situation?
If there is a spouse or partner occupying the unit, the spouse is included in the definition of tenant under the Residential Tenancies Act, and that person can remain in the unit as a tenant.

And when it’s just one person occupying a unit, what are the steps the landlord must take when that tenant dies?
The law states that the tenancy terminates 30 days after the death of the tenant. The landlord must preserve any property of the tenant, but may dispose of any unsafe and unhygienic items immediately.

What happens within the 30 days?
During the 30 day period, the landlord must provide reasonable access to the rental unit to allow the executor of the estate or family member to remove the tenant’s belongings.

I’d expect that the landlord would be motivated to remove the belongings so the unit can be re-rented, what happens to the belongings?
The landlord must leave the belongings in the tenant’s unit during the 30 day period.

And what happens if there are belongings that remain after the 30 days?
After the 30 days, the landlord then has the right to sell or retain or dispose of the belongings.

And if there was rent owing or damage to the unit, can the landlord make a claim against the estate?
Yes, the landlord could file a claim in Small Claims Court.

What happens if a few months down the road, the family reconsiders their decision about leaving some of the belongings?
If within six months, the tenant’s family claims the property and the landlord has sold the property, the landlord will have to give them the proceeds of the sale.  The landlord can deduct any arrears of rent plus any out of pocket expenses that the landlord incurred.  If the landlord has kept the property, the landlord will have to return the property to the tenant’s family.

Thank you Alda!

This has been Sound Advice for Landlords. The material presented in this podcast is intended as general information, it is not legal advice.  Sound Advice for Landlords is a production of Landlord’s Self-Help Centre, a community clinic funded by Legal Aid Ontario.  To learn more about Landlord’s Self-Help Centre and the podcast project visit www.landlordselfhelp.com.  Send your feedback to info@landlordselfhelp.com.

Copyright 2008 Landlord’s Self-Help Centre. 

Thank you for listening!