Can someone keep your belongings after you move if you lived with them temporarily?

UPDATED: Mar 31, 2012

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Can someone keep your belongings after you move if you lived with them temporarily?

I moved into a friend’s house for about a month and a half without signing a lease or agreeing to pay rent. After that time I moved in with my girlfriend but kept my stuff at my friend’s house; he never asked me to get it out. About 4 months later he served me with papers to pay $2300 or forfeit my stuff. I couldn’t pay it so I don’t have my stuff. He also didn’t give me 30 days so I was wondering what my options were and how to go about getting my stuff back.

Asked on March 31, 2012 under Real Estate Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

1) Even if you legitimately owed your friend money, he could not simply keep your belongings (or "hold them hostage") unless and only if you had used the belongings as collateral for what you owed him. Otherwise, if he thinks you owe him money, his recourse is to sue you.

2) You would not owe him any money if he had allowed you to stay (and keep your belongings there) rent free or without paying; he may not after the fact decide that he should have charged you money and change the agreement or arrangement.

If your "friend" will not return your belongings, you would seek their return by suing him for their return or for their monetary value.

Of course, lawsuits cost money and take time--since you did store belongings at his place (which would have cost you money, had you, for example, put them instead in a self-storage facility), you may wish to try to negotiate with him and see if you can't pay him a fair amount (e.g. what four months in self-storage would cost) to settle the matter out of court.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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