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Our buyers are threatening legal action because our tenants have left the garage full of junk

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Daniel Shein's article first appeared in Financial Times Property on 5th October 2018

Our buyers are threatening legal action because our tenants have left the garage full of junk. We live abroad and this is going to be tricky to sort out. We included all sorts of things in the purchase (carpets, curtains etc.) which are valuable. Can we just ignore the buyers?

Properties in England and Wales are usually sold with “vacant possession”. In short, that means that, unless agreed otherwise, by the date of completion all chattels (in other words, moveable objects) and people must be out of the property, so that the new owners can use it freely.Therefore, on completion you should have removed all your belongings (and those of your tenants), and the rubbish in the garage.

But we included all sorts of other things in the purchase: there were carpets on the floors, for example; the curtains were left, and a few other things. Why is it any different?

Only those items that have been expressly agreed with the buyer should remain.

Really? What’s the worst that could happen if we just ignore them?

In such circumstances, even if completion has taken place and the keys handed over, the buyer could in principle make a claim against you for not handing over the property in vacant possession, and for any damages. In extreme cases (though yours does not sound like it is) they could rescind the contract and recover the deposit, as well as claiming damages.
In practice, the buyer is only likely to bring a claim if the cost of disposing of the rubbish in the garage is particularly high, or they are particularly determined. Completely ignoring them, though, may encourage them to take action.

So we’re stuck then?

It is worth noting that your tenants will almost certainly have been under a duty to remove the rubbish at the end of their tenancy. If there was a deposit, and you have not already given it back, it would be worth quantifying the cost of removing the rubbish, and proposing to retain that amount from the deposit. Communicating this to the buyers is likely to be a sensible first step.

This article first appeared in The Financial Times.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.