When you sell a property, it is obviously courteous to leave the property in a good and tidy condition but do you have to? Can you say leave piles of rubbish behind? Or abandon Granny’s old three piece in the garden?

Legal Obligations

From a legal standpoint, a seller is contractually obliged to give `vacant possession’ of the property, unless the contract expressly states otherwise. The usual rule of thumb is that this means that the property is clear of the seller’s belongings and is in a state that means that the buyer can not prevented from moving in and enjoying the property.

There is no hard and fast rule and most sale contracts now will have a provision to ensure that the property is left clear of rubbish and personal belongings but this is always a question of degree.  A forgotten set of saucepans is a very different proposition to, say, a 6ft mound of rubbish in a courtyard garden.

If the property is left on the basis that a buyer cannot realistically move in, then the buyer can give a formal notice to the seller requiring them to remove their belongings / rubbish and to clear the property.  If the seller then refuses, the buyer can then sometimes opt to withdraw from the transaction or potentially try and renegotiate terms or an allowance for any onward removal or disposal costs that they will face.

The sale contract

As ever, we would say that the outcome will depend on the terms agreed as part of the sale process.

On a standard residential sale, the Law Society’s Standard Conditions of Sale (5th edition) will usually apply. Under these conditions, the seller is contractually obliged to give vacant possession on completion and the expectation is that the seller will remove any items for the property that are not fixtures (where they are physically attached in some way – imagine shaking the house, anything that does not move is usually a fixture) or otherwise agreed as remaining on the Fittings and Contents form. This form forms part of the contract and is therefore legally binding on the seller.

This also applies if the seller takes any fittings or fixtures that they should not to or have been agreed to remain as part of the sale price, then the buyer will have legal remedies against their loss and can bring a claim on the basis of the Standard Conditions if it would prove cost effective to do so.

In the same vein, if the seller were to leave fixtures and fittings that are agreed to be removed and the buyer is put to cost, it is sometimes possible to claim for the cost of any removal or disposal but, again, it is really important to balance of bringing a claim against the seller alongside any disposal costs incurred.  This is, of course, on the understanding that the buyer does not want to keep them – a pile of Victorian bricks under the shed might be just want the buyer wanted!

So what really happens?

In reality, the vast majority of sellers do leave the property in good condition, clean and clear of their belongings. However, there are exceptions to this and we thought we would share a few of the issues our clients have encountered on completion day:

  • One seller decided to remove all the internal doors before completion but left the handles and hinges – the seller was required to return the doors to the buyer.
  • Another accidentally left their Nan in the property! When the buyers went to move in, they were greeted by the elderly woman before the sellers returned to collect her.
  • We once had a buyer who went into his new house to find the seller was asleep in bed with nothing packed!
  • Finally, one of our own solicitors, when moving into her new flat, found the seller had perhaps gone a little too far with their removals as they had taken out the peephole from the front door leaving a small hole to the outside world!

As ever, we are here to give advice along the way so please do get in touch if you have any queries – either the property team or the dispute resolution team will be happy to help.

This article was prepared by Cheryl Bolt, an Associate that works in the Property department at WBW’s Exeter office. If you would like to contact her to discuss anything mentioned in this article or for any property related query, please call her on 01392 260181 or email cherylbolt@wbw.co.uk.

WBW has offices in TorquayPaigntonNewton AbbotExeterBovey Tracey,  Exmouth,  Honiton,  Sidmouth,  Launceston,  AxminsterChard and Seaton.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.