How can I legally get my belongings back? Perhaps, involving the police is the legal way to go “but not always”. This publication remedies the situation to get your property back.
Your belongings may be held in another person’s possession for various reasons. It could be that you broke up with a bitter ex, or were evicted from an apartment by a roommate or the landlord.
Meanwhile, depending on the circumstances and property value, you may have to involve an experienced litigation and appeals attorney to assert your rights and legally get the property back.
How can I legally get my belongings back?
You can get your property back in the following ways:
Demand your property back
Lawsuits can be really complex and expensive, so it may help to resolve the dispute through dialogue before considering going to court. You can send a demand letter to the person or follow a less formal procedure to get your belongings back.
A demand letter summarizes your claim and the relief you seek. If the person keeping your property refuses to return them, you may then consider filing a civil suit.
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Do not confront or break into the person’s home to take your belongings back—it may lead to trespass and other charges.
If an encounter will turn aggressive, problematic, or violent, civil standby could be used to regain your belongings. In this legal approach, a police officer or sheriff will accompany you to the property to reclaim belongings.
Some jurisdictions will instruct you to stay near the property until a dispatch officer arrives.
If you were legally barred from entering the property or having contact with the other person, a civil standby could still be used as an exception to the ban to retrieve your property.
Your attorney can trigger this legal mechanism in a protective order case to request for you to be allowed to get your belongings back or by calling the non-emergency number of your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
In Texas, for example, if you are not allowed into your former residence to recover your property, you can apply for a writ, which allows you to enter with a peace officer and get specific personal items. This is also applicable when retrieving personal items that belong to your dependent such as your child.
However, depending on your jurisdiction, this process can limit the amount of time you have to retrieve your belongings—could be 15 or 30 minutes. You would need a third party with you to speed up the process. The third party also serves as an objective witness to the events.
Lawsuit for property retention by a landlord
Different states have specific laws regulating the retrieval of your belongings, including your money, when the person in possession is your former landlord. If a landlord violates the law, they may be liable for the value of the items lost, including additional statutory penalties.
Some states require the landlord to hold your belongings for a short period of time – 7 days, for example. The landlord may or may not be allowed by the law to charge storage fees throughout this period. You then have the statutory amount of time to get back your belongings.
Your local law will usually require a landlord to give you a notice informing you of your rights to repossess the belongings.
Depending on your state, you may have your dispute with the landlord heard at an expedited level. A judge will review the petition and may order the landlord to return your belongings.
Get a court order
You can also get back your belongings from an ex, a landlord, or any other individual using a court order. A court order will mandate the individual to return your belongings.
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If your property is valued below a certain amount such as $5,000, consider small claims court.
In some states, you can file a complaint for a summary proceeding to get back your personal belongings. This option also typically allows an expedited process, usually heard within 7 days from the date the complaint was legally served on the individual keeping your property.
File a civil lawsuit
Your case is a civil matter, so you can file a lawsuit in a small claims court demanding the return of your personal property. You would have to pay the required fees and follow the requirements to file your case.
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This could be a tort claim for restitution or a claim for conversion. If another person, without your consent, damages or does not return your belongings, you can file a conversion suit to reclaim the property value. You could as well sue for negligence or take any suitable cause of action your attorney thinks fits your case.
You would need to keep any copies of documents, conversations, email, or phone logs showing you had an agreement to get your property back.
Since laws vary from one state to another, make sure to do your research before filing a civil suit. Your local attorney should give the best advice.
What is illegal when trying to get your belongings back?
Although you can try to get your things back yourself, the following are unlawful ways to do so:
- Breaking and entering. You could be charged for breaking and entering, and stealing if you break into the property and, probably take what is not yours.
- Trespass. You could be trespassing if you no longer live at the address or were legally barred from the property and have no permission to enter (whether a landlord or an ex).
- Burglary. It is burglary if you enter the property with the intention to commit an offense like stealing or you actually commit an offense in the dwelling.
- Assault. If you get into the property and fight over things, you could be charged with assault. Just touching another person in an angry, rude, or insolent manner is also considered an assault.
- Willful damage. You could be charged with willful damage if you damage another person’s property while trying to get your belongings back.