Liability of Incorporated owners selling items left by residents in common areas

In Desir Anthony C v Knight Frank (Services) Ltd ([2015] HKEC 44) a resident in a building (‘D’) left bicycles in a common area of the building. The building’s DMC allowed the Owners’ Corporation to appoint an agent with a duty, among other things, to prevent people from occupying common areas. The DMC did not authorise the sale of items unlawfully left in common areas. The Management Company issued a series of circulars, followed up by ‘Final Notices’ requiring D to remove the bicycles or accept that the management company would remove and dispose of them. The bicycles were removed and, after a series of further exchanges, sold. The main question was whether this sale was lawful.

It was not lawful. The Incorporated Owners were involuntary bailees of the bicycles ([80]). An involuntary bailee who sells the bailor’s goods is liable in conversion unless the sale is carried out in good faith and with reasonable care ([82]). Further, the bailee was not entitled to dispose of the bicycles merely because they had become a nuisance and the bailor had rejected the opportunity to collect them. A disposal was only lawful where there was an actual commercial necessity, the bailee acts prudently and in good faith and has been unable to communicate with the bailor before the disposal (a sale on these grounds is lawful in the case of goods that are deteriorating or depreciating in value but is unavailable where the disposal is solely for the bailee’s benefit) ([83]). In the absence of a provision in the DMC authorising the disposal, the sale was prima facie an act of conversion for which the Incorporated Owners were liable ([88]). The bicycles could only have been sold if this were in the bailor’s interests but this was not the case here. The sale was motivated by the desire to be rid of the nuisance of storing D’s bicycles. There were no legal grounds for the sale. ([97]). The Incorporated Owners were liable in conversion and were ordered to pay D the value of the bicycles at the time of the sale ([106]).

Michael Lower

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