Is failure to return or pay for rental furniture or electronics a crime?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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If you’re renting furniture, a television, or other items from a rental center, and you fail to pay the rental fee on time as noted in the contract, the company may charge you with theft in some states, where theft under these circumstances might be a perfectly legal charge. Threatening to take this legal action against you is not an empty threat, because some state legislatures have provided that according to the law retaining rental furniture without paying for it is punishable as a crime. However, whether the theft charges will result in a felony charge or not will depend on how much the television is worth.

Theft for Nonpayment

The logistics of the “theft” situation are quite simple.

  • If you rented a car, for example, and failed to return it on time or failed to pay for the extra day that you kept it, during that day you would be driving it without permission and without having paid to do so. You would be, essentially, stealing the vehicle and you could be charged with theft.
  • The same applies for furniture and other items rented from a rental center. You only have permission to posses and use the items during the time period for which you’ve paid for them. Any time you use and possess them without having paid for them, you are effectively stealing them from their rightful owner (the rental company). In these cases, you can be charged with theft.
  • Many rental companies will threaten, and/or follow through with, felony theft charges within a week of unpaid fees if you fail to return the item.

Is the Theft a Felony?

While it is fairly simple to determine that you will be charged with theft if you do not pay your bill for the rental TV, whether or not you will be charged with felony theft can be more difficult to discern. The key to whether you will be charged with felony theft or not is what the threshold/cutoff dollar amount is in your state at which a misdemeanor changes to a felony. This number can differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction

Getting Help

Because of the seriousness of theft charges and because threshold amounts differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, you will need to call a criminal lawyer in your area to find out if you are likely to be dealing with felony theft charges or not.  

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