Photo: Tony Webster
Whether it's a former roommate, an ex-partner, a friend, or some random partygoer whose name you've forgotten, someone is going to leave stuff at your home at some point. But hold on there, pal, that property isn't automatically yours now. Here's what you should do with it, according to common law.
First of all, it depends on what the item is. Obviously, food and drink or other perishables are fair game to be consumed or tossed out - assuming the leaver hasn't specifically asked you if they can come pick it up. For example, consider booze that gets left after a party as an investment in future parties at your place.
If you want to be nice, you can send a text asking if they want their leftover spinach dip, but they will probably say no.
Like medical advice or the answers to HQ trivia questions, you need to be careful where you get your legal advice. Twenty-odd years into the internet, people still make terrible decisions based on a faulty understanding of the law. We asked several lawyers to share the one thing they wish everyone knew about the legal profession, or how to get a lawyer. Here are their answers.
If it's not a food or drink item, though, things get a little more complicated. "Lost property" is a valuable item accidentally left behind or misplaced, and you have a legal duty to try and return it.
Someone leaving behind a nice piece of jewellery or watch in the bathroom, for example, or an iPad that fell through a couch cushion. A simple text or email reminding the leaver it's at your place is usually all it takes for them to come get their lost property.
But while it's easy to tell a friend they left their coat in your closet, what about that TV your ex hasn't come to pick up in over a month? Or how about that set of golf clubs your old roommate left behind in your garage? Now you have to determine whether the item in question is lost property or "abandoned property", which is an item in which the owner clearly has no intention to come back for and has given up all ownership rights. If it's officially abandoned - which requires some due diligence to determine - you can do whatever you want with it.
But every state can be a little different based on court precedents, so it's best to be patient and careful. Just to be safe, follow this procedure and document every step as best you can:
- Text or email the leaver and give them a deadline to come pick up their stuff. Say, for example, they have 60 days. It might seem like a lot, but it gives you an edge if things need to be settled in court down the line. Save a screenshot of the text being delivered.
- If they don't respond, call them. If they don't answer, leave a message. Save a screenshot of the interaction in your recent calls list.
- In South Australia 'found property' may be delivered to the SA Police, who will then hold onto the found property for 42 days. The police must retain custody of the found property for at least two months, but after which they will return the found property to the finder.
If they don't come to pick up their stuff after 60 days, and haven't reached out to you with a good reason as to why, you can consider the property abandoned. In that case, you may dispose of it as you see fit. If they do decide they want to take you to court for throwing away their crap, you should now have plenty of evidence in your favour and things probably won't get very far.