Is it legal to keep materials for money owed?

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Is it legal to keep materials for money owed?

I am renting out a building and let a friend come in for half the rent payment. However now he is late all the time on rent and the electric bill. Things are getting worse so I kicked him out and am holding the tools and materials until paid the money I am owed. Am I within my legal rights to do so?

Asked on December 28, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Kentucky

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, you can't do this:

1) First, from what you write, it sounds like the friend was actually a subtenant of yours--he paid you rent--even if there was only an oral lease or agreement. If he was a subtenant, you can't just kick him out for not paying; you have to evict him through the courts.

2) Even if and when you can kick him out, you have NO right to hold his tools and materials unless he specifically used them as a security or collateral for his rent, etc. obligations. If he did not, you are actually committing a form of theft by taking/holding them--you can't take another's person's belongings to force him to pay.

Your recourse is to bring an eviction action to get him out of your space and also sue him for any money he owes you. You could sue him in small claims court and represent yourself, to avoid legal fees.


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