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How to Get Personal Belongings Back From a Roommate

by Erica Loop

You've parted ways, but your stuff somehow still stayed. When your roommate's holding on to your belongings, getting them back takes a blend of tact, patience and assertive action. While you might want to scream and shout and demand that she returns your things immediately, a more diplomatic and successful process may take some time. Understanding how to handle the person and the situation is essential if you want to resolve the conflict without adding drama or a call to the authorities.

Take a look at the situation as a whole. If it isn't already apparent why your roommate won't give your belongings back, ask yourself why. This will guide which tactics you use and help you to approach him with the right argument. For example, an ex-roommate with an agenda that includes getting back at you for what he sees as stealing his girlfriend will respond differently than someone who is simply being lazy about dropping your stuff off.

Calm down. Even though it's normal to feel agitated or angered when your ex-roommate refuses to return your belongings, an emotion-fueled argument isn't likely to make matters any better. Controlling your feelings will help you to think more logically, writes licensed social worker Jenise Harmon on the PsychCentral website. Stop before you speak, and take a deep breath or leave the room if you can't keep your emotions under wraps. When you do calm down, you'll have the ability to reason rationally.

Stand up for yourself. Clarify your view and needs, suggests clinical psychologist Leon F. Seltzer on the Psychology Today website. This doesn't mean that you should start an argument or belittle your ex-roommate. Instead, tell her that you want your belongings. For example, call her and say, "I need to get my winter clothes back from you. Let's arrange a time for me to pick them up."

Give your roommate a timeline for returning your belongings. State what will happen if he won't create a deadline or stick to it. For example, tell him that he has one week to return your TV.

Set consequences. Make sure that this doesn't come out sounding like a threat. Let her know that you aren't setting the consequences in retaliation or to hurt her. Instead, tell her you just want for both of you to be on the same page. For example, tell her that if she doesn't return your clothing in seven days, you'll consider taking legal action.


  • Assess the total value of your belongings. If you're not having any luck getting your belongings back by asking, you may have to take your roommate to court. Gather together receipts or any other documentation that you can find to calculate the total dollar amount.
  • Consider mediation. If you can't resolve the issue or you and your ex-roommate are too angry to effectively communicate, ask someone else to step in and help. For example, if you're in college -- and live on campus -- your resident adviser can mediate.


  • Understand your legal rights. This may differ, depending on where you live. Each state -- and sometimes city -- has its own renter and tenant laws. For example, in New York City it is illegal for a co-tenant -- someone whose name is on the lease with you -- to remove any of your belongings or prohibit you from entering the rental unit to take them back, according to a tenant's rights organization.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

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