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Abandoned goods

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There are laws in Queensland for property that's:

If you have a dispute with someone about the return of property, you should get legal advice.

Property someone has left with you

When someone leaves their belongings (ie property) with you this is called bailment. Under the law of bailment, you must take reasonable care of the goods and not do anything to damage them or take them from the owner.  

If you get rid of someone's belongings without their agreement you may be responsible to the owner for the value of the belongings or you could even be  charged with theft.

If the person refuses to take the property, you’re still legally responsible for it unless you reach an agreement with the owner or get a court order to get rid of the belongings. You should get legal advice.

Found property

If you find goods or money, you should take it to your local police station.

You’re not automatically entitled to keep any goods or money you find. If you don’t hand it in to the police you may be charged with a criminal offence. If you tell the police that you’ve found something of value, they may later return it to you if they can’t find the owner.

Getting your property back

If someone is illegally holding your property, you should contact the police. If the police agree it’s a criminal matter, they will get your property back.

You can collect the property yourself as long as you don’t commit any criminal offences to get it back (eg trespass, breaking and entering, damage to property, assault).

Even if it isn’t a criminal matter, you can ask the police to come with you to keep the peace while you collect your property, but they can’t force the other person to hand over your property.

If you can’t collect the property yourself and the police won’t collect it for you, you’ll need to apply to the court to get an order to have your property returned. You should get legal advice.

Can a trader hold my goods?

A trader can keep your goods if they’ve done work on them (eg repairs) and you haven’t paid the bill. This usually happens if there’s a dispute over the bill or the standard of work.

If there’s a dispute you should try and come to an agreement with the trader. If you can’t reach an agreement, you can try mediation or get legal advice.

Can a trader sell my goods?

There are laws about leaving goods with traders for:

  • storage
  • repair
  • inspection (eg in order to give a quote), or
  • other treatment.

If you leave your goods with a trader for more than 6 months after you’ve been told they are ready for collection, they may be able to sell your goods to recover costs such as:

  • reasonable storage expenses
  • the cost of selling the goods (eg advertising)
  • insurance.

A trader can’t legally sell your belongings without a court order. Before getting a court order they’ll need to give you notice in writing of their intention to apply for a court order. If a trader is threatening to sell your belongings, get legal advice.

For more information about selling uncollected goods, visit the Queensland Government website.

Files held by a lawyer or accountant

Lawyers and accountants can hold your files or books of account until:

  • their bill is paid  
  • any dispute is resolved by a tribunal
  • an agreement is reached.

If your files are being held by a lawyer or accountant, you should get legal advice.

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice if you:

  • have a dispute with a trader holding your goods
  • have a dispute with a lawyer or accountant about the return of your files
  • are holding goods belonging to someone who refuses to collect them
  • want to go to court to recover your belongings from someone who is illegally holding them, and the police haven’t been able to help you to get them back.

How to get legal advice

We may give legal advice about abandoned goods, found goods or retrieving goods.
The following organisations may be able to give legal advice:

Community legal centres give legal advice on a range of topics. Contact them to find out if they can help with your matter.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice or representation.

Who else can help?

These organisations may also be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.

Queensland Police may help you to recover your belongings if they’re being held illegally.

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