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I've had a peculiar situation recently while buying a house in Washington:

  1. During the initial viewing I've noticed that the garage is full of boxes with various items
  2. After signing the purchase document the boxes were still there
  3. During the final pre inspection (one week before closing) the boxes were still there and my closing agent notified the seller about it
  4. After closing and getting the keys, the boxes were still there
  5. The seller finally picked up their stuff a few days afterwards

But this made me curious - could I have refused to let the seller to pick up their stuff after officially becoming the owner of the property? The common sense perspective is that the house is transferred "as is" and since the seller was warned about the remaining boxes, they should've picked them up before completing the sale or else they've forfeited their rights.

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    There is typically a clause in the contract that any property left in the house after closing becomes the property of the buyer unless otherwise agreed. If you don't have this clause in your purchase contract, you don't have a very good contract... – Ron Beyer Oct 9 '20 at 23:50
  • @RonBeyer good point! I do have a similar clause. – JonathanReez Oct 9 '20 at 23:59
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    @RonBeyer The problem with that is that such agreement could be implied by the conduct of the parties. After all the buyer notified the seller to come and pick up the box. – JBentley Oct 10 '20 at 10:47
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No, you could not have prevented them from collecting their belongings

But you could have sued for trespass

Unless those boxes were part of the contract for sale, they remain the vendor’s property and just like you can’t withhold your mate’s trombone that he accidentally left after that great party, you can’t withhold the vendor’s boxes - that’s called “stealing”.

What you could (should?) have done is refuse to settle until the boxes were removed. As the vendor was in breach, if you suffered any unmitigated loss as a result of the delay, you would be entitled to recover it. This is one of the reasons why you should inspect on the day of settlement.

Given that you accepted the breach, even though the vendor’s boxes were technically trespassing, they could reasonably raise the defense that they had implicit permission- at least for a reasonable time. “A few days” is a reasonable time.

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  • How many days would the seller have to pick up the stuff? Is there a defined threshold after which they would've become mine officially? – JonathanReez Oct 10 '20 at 0:03
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    A reasonable time. Yes, after a reasonable time and after you had made reasonable efforts to reunite them. – Dale M Oct 10 '20 at 3:11
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    What about other consequecnes? Sometimes, having something is worse than not having it. The boxes might contain drugs, child porn, nuclear waste - or simply be in the way when you want to park your car – Hagen von Eitzen Oct 10 '20 at 12:15
  • Could you have charged "Storage Fee"? After all, the stuff blocks the garage and limits the usability of the property, so there is some actual damage to the OP. – Hilmar Oct 10 '20 at 14:53
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    @JonathanReez - The boxes wouldn't've become yours. They'd become trespassing without your permission and eventually abandoned but still not yours. Have a look at RCW 63.29.020 and following. If you took reasonable efforts for reuniting the boxes with their owner, waited reasonable time, identified the box contents as "used clothing, umbrellas, bags, luggage, or other used personal effects", you'd be expected to hand them over to a bona fide charity, or if they are useless even to a charity, to destroy them. Should you sell them instead, you owe the proceeds to the owner. – Jirka Hanika Oct 10 '20 at 15:12

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