Having a roommate borrow your personal items and not return them is bad enough; however, things can get downright nasty if one of you decides to move out and your roommate won't give you back your stuff. It is illegal for anyone to keep your personal property without your consent -- whether you moved out abruptly because you could no longer stand each other, or had a pleasant parting. While it's always best to try to get back your belongings amicably, in some cases, it might be necessary to take it a step further.
Make a list. You want to be as specific and detailed as possible. If it's a situation where your roommate "borrowed" clothing or other items, write down the date when she borrowed them and the circumstances surrounding the lending of the items. This is necessary in case your roommate tries to claim that you gifted the items to her.
Gather receipts and bank statements if necessary. You might need to provide substantial proof that you purchased the items that your roommate is withholding. Gather any receipts you have, as well as credit card statements and past bank statements that might serve as proof that you paid for an item. If you have pictures of yourself with the items, these can help as well.
Speak to your roommate. First, try to calmly ask your roommate to return your items. Call her and ask for your items back as politely as possible. Explain to her that it is illegal to keep any of your personal belongings and you can prove they are yours. If she puts you off or indicates that she is not going return your belongings, write her a letter. Indicate exactly what you want her to return. Include copies of your receipts if you have them to let her know that you have proof that the items are yours. Send her the letter via certified mail.
Contact a lawyer. Even if you don't want to pay a lawyer to represent your case, you can opt for just a single consultation with a lawyer so he can advise you regarding further actions you can take to recover your items. A lawyer can also write a formal letter to your roommate requesting that she return all the items by a certain date, noting that if she doesn't, you are going to take legal action. Sometimes, a strongly worded legal letter can be enough to persuade someone to cooperate because she won't want to go to court.
Take it to court. If worse comes to worse and you cannot get back your personal property, you can take the matter to court. You can either file a complaint with your district court or take your case to small claim's court. The amount for which you can sue in small claims court varies among states. For example, as of 2013, you can sue in a Maine small claims court if the total value of your property is $6,000 or less, according to Pine Tree Legal Assistance. Once you file the appropriate paperwork and serve your complaint on your roommate, you will both have to attend a court hearing where you can show your evidence. After hearing from both sides, a judge will determine if you get your items back.
- Do not attempt to collect your belongings by yourself if the situation is hostile. At the very least, contact the police to escort you to the property. Unless you have a court order, however, they cannot force your roommate to let you enter the premises.
Based in Los Angeles, Zora Hughes has been writing travel, parenting, cooking and relationship articles since 2010. Her work includes writing city profiles for Groupon. She also writes screenplays and won the S. Randolph Playwriting Award in 2004. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in television writing/producing and a Master of Arts Management in entertainment media management, both from Columbia College.
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