Can You Leave Anything When Moving House?

Messy garden shed with door openTheodore Jenner, from Stone Rowe Brewer’s Teddington office, looks into some typical moving day conundrums and explains where we stand legally if a seller has refused to clear out their shed on completion day!

When buying a residential property the contract between a buyer and seller will contain a special condition that ‘the property is sold with vacant possession on completion’ What vacant possession actually means can cause confusion for both buyer and seller. Many people assume that simply moving out of your property on completion, with your furniture and personal possessions is adequate and see no problem with leaving rubbish in the shed, comprising of old paint pots that haven’t seen the light of day for years, or the old bits of carpet and broken furniture that were in the loft when the seller originally bought the property.

I hear you say “does the seller has to remove these items?” – yes they do, unless you have agreed to purchase the property sold as seen, or are happy that the items can remain on completion and you will be responsible for the removal of the same. As a seller, you must not, when selling a property to a developer, think you can fill the now-empty swimming pool full of rubbish, just because the property is being developed. To facilitate completion, the seller had to agree on an allowance, running into several thousands of pounds, to cover the cost of emptying the swimming pool, to ensure vacant possession was given on completion, otherwise, the seller would have been in breach of contract and needed to complete to purchase an alternative property.

Nor can you remain at the property beyond the completion date because you know the buyer is not actually moving in until the weekend and you are completing on Thursday. One poor buyer went to inspect the property on completion and found the elderly seller still asleep in bed. The shocked buyer made a hasty retreat and, after a few telephone calls, vacant possession was given later that day.
A few years ago my in-laws were emigrating to Spain, the lorry had left with their furniture and we were helping them to load up the car with the last few remaining items when I noticed some rather large garden furniture and ornaments pushed to the side of the front garden. I inquired as to what was to become of these items and advised “oh there wasn’t enough room in the lorry, I’ll just pop a note into the estate agents to tell the buyers that they will be collected in a couple of weeks”. I quickly advised my father in law this was not acceptable and we agreed to store the items in our garden for the next two months before they were collected.

Recent case law has clarified that vacant possession means the property should be empty of people and chattels, and the purchaser can enjoy immediate exclusive possession, occupation and control of the property. The sale contract also states a time the property should be vacated, which is to be no later than 2.00pm. When deciding to arrange removals at a property yourself, you must therefore ensure if several trips in your van are required, you can vacate by this time. A buyer does not want to be waiting around with a lorry full of furniture or be unable to move into their new home because you have not yet given vacant possession.

To avoid problems on completion, it is important you arrange your removals as early as possible so that the buyer can collect the keys from the estate agents once the seller’s solicitor has received completion monies from the buyer’s solicitors – especially if there is a large chain of transactions.

My advice to clients is to aim to be out of the property by lunchtime to enable a smooth transition between the seller vacating and the buyer moving into the property. Of course, sometimes there are problems, and unforeseen delays do occur which could mean the odd piece of furniture may have to remain at the property overnight, subject to agreement between the parties, but as your solicitor, this is something we would advise and negotiate on your behalf on completion day.

For more information, please contact our residential property team by telephoning 020 8891 6141 or contact
Sabina Ifraimova and Theodore Jenner