Can a landlord move an abandoned vehicle?

20th February 2024

Can a landlord remove an abandoned vehicle from their property? In this article, we look at the potential pitfalls of vehicle abandonment and give practical guidance to landlords if a former tenant has left a vehicle on private property.

When a residential or commercial tenant leaves chattels at a property at the end of a tenancy or lease, a landlord will usually arrange for the removal and disposal of the chattels by following the statutory procedure under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 (“TIGA 1977”). The landlord is required to serve a notice or notices that ask the former tenant to collect their chattels and, in the event that they do not, warn the former tenant of the landlord’s intention to sell the uncollected chattels. On expiry of the notice of intention to sell, the landlord can sell the chattels if they are reasonably satisfied that the former tenant owns the chattels and they have taken reasonable steps to trace the former tenant.

However, what if the former tenant leaves a vehicle at the property? Section 54 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 makes it a criminal offence to move a motor vehicle on private land without lawful authority (such as the statutory powers to remove vehicles given to local authorities) and with the intention of preventing or inhibiting the removal of the vehicle by the person entitled to remove it. Additionally, it is a criminal offence under section 2(1) of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978 (“RDAA 1978”) to abandon a vehicle on any land in the open air or on any other land forming part of a highway. As such, a landlord risks committing a criminal offence if they remove the former tenant’s vehicle from the property themselves, either to dispose of it or to simply park it on the road.

The statutory regime under the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978

It is critically important therefore that landlords in this situation adhere to the statutory regime set out in RDAA 1978. Section 3(1) imposes a duty on local authorities to remove vehicles that appear to the local authority to have been “abandoned without lawful authority on any land in the open air”. This duty extends to private land, so any parking spots demised to a commercial unit or driveways at a residential property are covered.

This is caveated by section 3(3), which provides that the local authority is not required to remove an abandoned vehicle if the cost of doing so would be “unreasonably high”. In practice, this is likely to only cover vehicles abandoned in hard to reach places where specialist equipment is required to remove the vehicle and therefore unlikely to impact on the vast majority of instances.

Key to section 3(1) is that the local authority must consider the vehicle to be “abandoned” in order for its duty to remove the vehicle to arise. RDAA 1978 does not define abandoned, but the local authority will be more likely to consider the vehicle to be abandoned if at least one of the following applies and the vehicle:

  • Has no registered keeper on the DVLA database;
  • Is untaxed;
  • Has been stationary for a significant period of time;
  • Is significantly damaged, run down or unroadworthy;
  • Is burnt out;
  • Is missing one or both number plates; and/or
  • Contains waste.

This is a question of fact and degree, but where a local authority does consider a vehicle to be abandoned, section 3(2) requires the local authority to give the landowner at least 15 days’ notice that it intends to remove the vehicle.

It is important to note that a local authority cannot recover its costs of removing the vehicle from the landlord. Instead, section 5(1) states that it can recover costs incurred in the removal, storage and disposal of the vehicle from “any person responsible”. The definition of person responsible in section 5(4) does not include the landlord.

Practical steps for the landlord

If a former tenant has left a vehicle at a landlord’s property, they should take the follow steps and keep accurate records of doing so:

  • 1. Contact the former tenant and request they remove the vehicle;
  • 2. Gather evidence that the vehicle has been abandoned, which could include:
    • a. Contacting the DVLA to ascertain whether the vehicle has a registered keeper (although it should be noted that this does not establish ownership of the vehicle);
    • b. Taking photographs of its condition;
    • c. Recording when it was abandoned; and
    • d. Serving notices under TIGA 1977.
  • 3. Notify the local authority that a vehicle has been left at the property.

The DVLA considers applications from non-accredited companies or individuals to release registered keeper details individually on a case-by-case basis and a request can be made here.

You can report an abandoned vehicle here.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to lead to a fast resolution. Local authorities have different policies as to what constitutes a “significant period of time” when considering if a stationary vehicle has been abandoned and the landlord will have to put up with the vehicle remaining on the property while the local authority investigates. The landlord may incur costs due to the vehicle remaining on their property, such as being unable to lease or rent the property to a new tenant.

Despite this, the landlord should resist the temptation to move the vehicle themselves (risking criminal sanctions) or sell it to a removal company for scrap (something only the registered keeper can do). This is the case even if the landlord has served notices under TIGA 1977, as there is uncertainty as to whether chattels that have been left at a property without the agreement of the landlord are covered by the relevant provisions. Any decision to take personal action is done at the landlord’s own risk.

It should also be noted that the police were granted extended powers under Section 55 Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to remove vehicles from all areas of private land (previously only public roads) where they are illegally, obstructively or dangerously parked or broken down.

It is unlikely that the landlord will be able to recover any costs incurred in following the procedure in RDAA 1978. However, by taking the steps above, the landlord will protect itself against both the risk of criminal sanctions and of the former tenant bringing a debt recovery action for the value of the vehicle.

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