Can I remove someone else's property from my house after they have failed to remove it themselves?

Question Details: I am a homeowner and have had a flatmate living with me for a few years. I agreed she could store her parents' furniture in my garage however I now want use of the space. We don't have an agreement in writing. I have been asking her for the past year to remove the items and I am running out of patience. What steps can I take to ensure the items are removed promptly and what are my rights in this situation? Can I just clear the garage and put her stuff on the footpath?

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Answers by Lawyers

Community Law Wellington & Hutt Valley

In this situation you cannot legally remove your flatmate's property without her consent or, at the very least, without taking reasonable steps to protect the property from damage. If you remove the property without taking the proper steps you might have to compensate your flatmate.

Normally a landlord has some rights under the Residential Tenancies Act to deal with property that tenants leave behind - but this is not your situation. And this Act doesn't apply to you anyway, because the Act does not cover issues between flatmates, even when one of the flatmates is also the landlord.

Once you agreed that your flatmate could store her property in your garage you accepted some responsibilities, including to keep her property reasonably safe, and to let her have the property back when she wants.

But you have not promised to keep the property for her forever. Given that you don't have any agreement about how long she can store her property with you, you are entitled to end that arrangement by giving reasonable notice to your flatmate that she needs to remove her property. Seeing she hasn't responded to your previous requests, we suggest you now repeat your request in writing, and keep a copy of the letter you write to her.

The best way to proceed from here would be to come up with an agreed plan with your flatmate, about when she will move the property. It may help to suggest that you can help her to move the property, for instance to a storage locker that she rents. Put everything in writing and keep copies. Make a note if she agrees or promises to have the property removed.

If your flatmate is still uncooperative, then you could consider taking a case to the Disputes Tribunal. The Tribunal could compensate you for the cost of storage (we suggest you get quotes to show what storage would cost elsewhere), and this may prompt her to move her property. As a last resort, you could give your flatmate notice (in writing) that you will move her property if she does not do this herself by a certain date. But because you still have responsibility for the safety of the property, you would need to move it to a safe location, pay any costs for moving it or storing it elsewhere, and make sure your flatmate knows where and how she can pick it up. To avoid being liable to your flatmate, you MUST be able to show that you have taken good care of her property, and that you have not prevented her from getting it back.

You cannot force your flatmate to meet your costs - but the Disputes Tribunal might order her to pay you these costs if you apply for this. Or, you could take the costs you have had to meet into account, when you next review her rent.

Click here for more information about the Disputes Tribunal: www.communitylaw.org.nz

Answered 24 Nov 2012. The IMPORTANT NOTICE below is part of this answer.

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