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Ex-roommate will not return property entrusted to him Roomate

Discussion in 'Roomate & Joint Leases' started by LAVATORR, Mar 24, 2017.

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  1. LAVATORR

    LAVATORR Law Topic Starter New Member

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    In December 2015, a combination of medical and financial crises forced me to abruptly vacate my apartment, which I shared with two roommates, and to move from California to Michigan. (Although I personally had to break the lease early, I simply found a replacement to stay the remainder of the lease and there were no subsequent complications regarding the lease or my tenancy.) Because of the sudden nature of the move, I did not have the time, money, or resources to have the vast majority of my property* sent with me, so one of my roommates, M, agreed to hold on to my things until I had the money and a cost-effective shipping solution to send for them. Because M was my best friend and the single most responsible, dependable human being I knew, we did not formally declare this in writing, but as a deal between friends, it was extremely straightforward. Beyond a few specific oversized items we discussed at length--furniture, a TV that I explicitly gave him permission to keep or give away, etc--there was zero ambiguity in that I expected all my property back unless explicitly stated otherwise.


    A few months later everything is in order. He will box up my things and drop them off at an Amtrak shipping station. This is where the problems begin: because I had a full-time job at night and a part-time job during the day, I slept in the afternoons. While I was asleep, he sent me a text saying he was at the Amtrak station and needed the destination's address. When I didn't reply right away, he offhandedly added "looks like you're losing your stuff" (note: At no point did he make any mention of deadlines or any situations that would compel him to abandon my things beyond the aforementioned oversized items); when I saw it, I told him that I'd been sleeping, asked what specifically he needed, and then provided him with the station's address.


    Then...nothing. No updates. He stopped returning my calls. After a few days of inactivity, I grew nervous and called Amtrak, only to learn that the Royal Oak station does not accept freight, and if he had attempted to ship anything there, Amtrak would never have accepted his money because there's simply no way to send anything to Royal Oak, even erroneously.


    This was June 30th, 2016. Since then, I have tried calling, texting, and messaging him on Facebook to no response. I haven't specified that this is about the furniture, instead saying "there's something extremely important we need to talk about" (in the past, I found that being aggressive in situations like this tends to backfire, so while I was consistently calling and texting, I largely stuck to variations on "we need to talk ASAP"). Strangely enough, he didn't completely cut me off; since June 30th, he has answered one phone call, one text, and one Facebook message, simply to say "yes, I know you're trying to contact me, but I don't feel like talking". This bizarre admission of neglect was out of character for someone who typically dots every T and crosses every I, so I contacted a mutual friend who confirmed that M had indeed been behaving erratically and refused to talk to anyone.


    At this point, I am completely out of options. I largely avoided being too aggressive in the past for fear he would do something rash if provoked, but after nine months of trying and failing to reach him, I have no choice but to explore my legal options. My greatest fear is that he abandoned/sold/destroyed/otherwise got rid of my things. If it turns out my property is fine and he returns all of it undamaged, I will not pursue any form of recourse. With that in mind, here are a few key questions and concerns I have moving forward.


    1) Since I would presumably be pursuing this in small claims court, I would not have any legal counsel and need to do most of the homework myself. What are some good resources that a layman can use to learn the laws surrounding this specific issue? Google isn't helping; I've tried searching every variant on this topic and haven't found many relevant results.Any specific laws, terminology, or general places to look would be appreciated.


    3) My core argument is that, if he did get rid of my things he has provided me with either no notification, inadequate notification, changed the terms of our agreement without informing me, or possibly that he simply stole it. Again, I can't say for sure because he's deliberately avoiding me, but which legal argument do you think would be strongest? I have a vague understanding of the principle at work here--loaning something for the expressed purpose of having it returned to you does not constitute ownership, otherwise anybody could legally steal anything temporarily entrusted to them--but it's hard to move forward without knowing specifics.


    2) Are there statutes of limitations on the claim I am pursuing? Does the fact that he admitted, in writing, to willfully ignoring my attempts to contact him affect this in any way?


    4) Can I use texts, Facebook messages, or phone records as proof that I have been trying to reach him and he is deliberately avoiding me?


    5) How do I value my damages? I read that you're supposed to use current value, not value at time of purchase (some of my video equipment cost thousands at the time of purchase, but retails for hundreds today). How can I apply that when I don't have an itemized list of what he had? Do I just have to make a good faith estimate? Can photographs of my things be used to support my claims?


    6) I believe California requires me to be physically present for a small claims hearing. Can I include the cost of airfare and lodging in my complaint? Are there any exceptions to the physical presence rule?


    7) What would his strongest legal defense be? Keep in mind the following: He made no mention and gave no warning of the possibility of not returning my things beyond an offhand remark at the Amtrak station, which was immediately followed by him asking for an address and me providing one; I had a backup person ready to take over if he proved unwilling or unable, so the issue is not me forcing him specifically to do this for me, since all I need is the location of my things, access to where they're held, and a mutually agreed upon time; I had given him the shipping destination's Royal Oak address (an incorrect one, granted, but one he apparently never attempted to use) shortly after he left the Amtrak station, and nothing prevented him from simply returning to Amtrak the next day and trying again.

    *”Property” here includes at least 1) Just over 200 DVDs, 2) Well over 200 books, including a number of expensive textbooks, 3) A home theater 7.1 surround sound system, 4) thousands of dollars in professional grade film and video equipment, 5) About 50 video games and at least two video game consoles, 6) assorted miscellaneous and sentimental keepsakes. In other words, we’re not talking about a couple pairs of ratty sweatpants
     
  2. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    Your text was far too long for me to read in its entirety.
    If you sue him, you'll have to shuffle back and forth to Michigan to do so, eventually making the lawsuit financially irresponsible.
    Plus, if you do prevail, it's extremely doubtful you'll collect a dollar of any judgment.
    Fewer than 10% of small claims litigants ever see a dollar of any judgment won.

    About the friend, your stuff, and his legal duty; you and he had an ordinary bailment.
    The bailment was done as a favor, not for profit, as he was not to make a dime off of it.
    Such a bailment meant he had to exercise ordinary care to protect your things.
    I suggest you thank the trees, rocks, lakes, and flowers because you survived your health crisis and forget the stuff and your former friend.
    You'll never see the stuff, your one time friend, or a dollar if you sue him.
    Not every alleged legal wrong has a remedy one can obtain.
     
    Michael Wechsler likes this.
  3. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    Agreed... Your distance from the court makes pursuing anything financially unreasonable.
    You've been without your stuff for a couple years already. It may be time to just let it go.
     
  4. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    Lavatorr, you posted on another website. Please go back there and review the responses.
     
  5. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    You can't report the items stolen because they are not stolen. Hard to believe that you didn't send him your address well in advance, such as a place where to forward mail. To be honest, it seems like we're not getting the whole story and that would come out in court during any lawsuit. I can't say it would look favorable that you hadn't provided a forwarding address in many months since the move.

    The primary problem is that you can't report the good stolen because they were voluntarily given to a bailee. You created a "bailment" - and this is a civil matter involving the duties of the roommate / friend / bailee. Given the above, I wonder why your roommate wasn't so thrilled to help out and I'm guessing you may know. The value of the items becomes moot if it doesn't pay to go to court, but value would be based upon fair market value which might take up too much time to even bother as well. Might want to take the advice of the good people above and consider whether it's worth just considering this a hard lesson to learn.
     

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