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Q: Roomates ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Question  
Subject: Roomates
Category: Family and Home > Home
Asked by: ilingirl-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 23 Nov 2006 06:10 PST
Expires: 23 Dec 2006 06:10 PST
Question ID: 785053
In August 2006, I found an ad for a roomate wanted in Providence, RI. 
I went and met the girl, we hit it off, and I moved in. She told me I
could start living there at that point, but since the August rent was
already paid, I could start paying my share on 1 September.  So that's
what I did.  Shortly after 1 September, my roomate informed me that
she had located another roomate for us.  Now there were 3 of us
sharing the rent and paying 1/3 of the utilities. I always paid my
rent and 1/3 of the utilities on time and with cash, but I never asked
for any receipts.  Shortly after 1 September I realized that moving to
Providence was a mistake.  It was too far away from my work and my
friends.  I started to stay at my friends' places in another town
during the night and hardly went to my apartment in Providence any
more.  I still paid my September and October rent in full.  Now, I
never did sign any lease with my Providence roomate, nor did I ever
meet the landlord.  My roomate took care of all that stuff.  In the
middle of October, I went to my apartment to tell my roomate that I
was planning on moving out on 31 October.  When I got there, I found
that the locks had been changed on the doors and I could not get in. 
My roomate happened to be home and gave me a story about her step dad
loosing the spare key to the apartment she had given him and he/she
thought the locks should be changed.  I told her I was moving out at
the end of the month and that's when I'd be back for my belongings. 
She said OK.  She didn't have an extra key to the new lock to give me
at that time.  I left and since then, she will not return any of my
phone calls to set up a date for me to come get my belongings....2
TVs, a Sony Playstation, clothes, my dresser, bed and other personal
things.  Is there any official action I can take against this girl in
order to get my things back, or do I just chalk this loss up to
experience?

Request for Question Clarification by mvguy-ga on 23 Nov 2006 12:30 PST
If you want to take some sort of legal action, it appears to me you
have two possibilities:
1) Sue this person to recover the value of your items.
2) File a criminal complaint for theft.

Would information on how to do these be a suitable answer? Thanks.

Clarification of Question by ilingirl-ga on 24 Nov 2006 10:19 PST
I would like to take action to sue her for the value of my items as I
believe she has probably sold my belongings by now.  Would I start
this action is small claims court?
Answer  
Subject: Re: Roomates
Answered By: tutuzdad-ga on 24 Nov 2006 11:13 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
 
Dear ilingirl-ga;

Thank you for allowing me to answer your interesting question. As I
see it you have several options at your disposal:

The first option is to (as you say) write the whole issue off to
experience. This of course will mean that you will not likely get your
belongings back nor will you be compensated for the loss of them.

The second the third options include the involvement of the local law
enforcement authorities:

You might consider calling the police and having them meet you at the
apartment. Explain the situation and let them know that all you are
interested in is securing your property and being on your way. Some
police agencies do not, as a matter of policy, involve themselves in
civil matters and if the police refuse to assist you on this basis
then you may have to resort to option 3#, criminal charges. What your
roommate has essentially done can be statutorily interpreted as theft
(aka larceny):
http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE11/11-41/INDEX.HTM

Likewise, the offense could also potentially be interpreted as an even
more serious form of theft:

 11-41-11.1  Unlawful appropriation. ? Any person to whom any money
or other property of another shall be entrusted or delivered for a
particular purpose, who shall intentionally appropriate to his or her
own use that money or property, shall be deemed guilty of unlawful
appropriation and shall be fined not more than fifty thousand dollars
($50,000) or three (3) times the value of the money or property thus
appropriated, whichever is greater, or imprisoned not more than twenty
(20) years, or both. However, if the sum or value of the property so
appropriated is less than one thousand dollars ($1,000), he or she
shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or
imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.
http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE11/11-41/11-41-11.1.HTM

 11-41-7  Larceny from the person. ? Every person who shall steal or
attempt to steal from the person of another any money, goods,
chattels, or other article enumerated in  11-41-1, shall be
imprisoned not less than one year nor more than ten (10) years.
http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE11/11-41/11-41-7.HTM

If you choose to pursue criminal charges there are several probable scenarios:
-- The roommate may return the property (or pay for it if it is
already sold) in order to avoid prosecution.
-- The roommate may deny the allegations and allow the issue to go to
trial in which case she may be found guilty (and forced to pay
restitution, which she may or may not ever actually pay) or she may be
found not guilty (in which case you get nothing except a hefty bill
from your attorney).

Now, the fourth option is to file a small claims suit in the
Providence court of jurisdiction. This will require you to pay the
necessary filing fees and you may or may not choose to retain an
attorney to assist you in your case. This option will also obviously
require you to make several trips to Providence over a period of time
which you may find considerably inconvenient, and perhaps even too
inconvenient to make this option worth undertaking. You must also
consider the fact the burden of proof in a civil case is not the same
as it is in a criminal case. In other words, instead of establishing
beyond a reasonable doubt, one must make their case by a preponderance
of ?evidence?. Having said that, a civil case will rely heavily on
proof

-- That you paid the rent you claim to have paid (without receipts
this will be tough to establish)
-- That you were indeed co-renting the apartment and not just storing
your goods there (again, without receipts this will be difficult)
-- That you had not abandoned your property
-- That you don?t owe for rent of storage fees for the property you ?left?

While the court will take into account your sworn testimony, it will
also just as equally weigh the testimony of your roommate (and any
witnesses she will presumably produce). In my opinion, if you do not
have a strong enough case to win on your testimony alone (having no
written proof to present to the court) the chances of you winning the
civil suit are pretty stacked against you. An attorney however may see
this differently and you should probably contact one before making any
decisions to pursue the case or not. Another issue to consider is the
amount of your loss. In Providence, RI, the maximum recovery you can
hope for in Small Claims Court is $1,500. If this maximum award would
not cover your losses (less any filing fees or attorney fees) you
should probably evaluate how beneficial this option would really be.

By the same token, the roommate could potentially file a counterclaim
for storage fees and unpaid rent (which you could not prove you do not
owe if that allegation was made). If the roommate won the counterclaim
and you lost your suit you could potentially walk away without your
stuff AND owing money.

Think about what your roommates? defense and testimony might be. Let
me help you from the roommate?s standpoint:

-- There was never a rental agreement. If there was, present one and
I?ll honor it. (This is clearly bad because you can?t present one)
-- I allowed the plaintiff (that?s you) to stay with me temporarily
and the plaintiff took advantage of me. The plaintiff now owes ME
money.
-- I allowed the plaintiff to store belongings at my apartment and the
plaintiff abandoned them. I am entitled to them or entitled to payment
for storing them.
-- The plaintiff agreed to rent the apartment but never paid. The
plaintiff left me the property to compensate me for the unpaid rent,
storage and reasonable care of the goods.
-- The plaintiff agreed to rent the apartment but never paid. The
plaintiff absconded so I sold the plaintiff?s abandoned property to
pay the unpaid rent.

I?d like to say ?just sue her? but it isn?t that simple when you
really start to form a legal strategy. When the cards seem to be in
the other person?s favor sometimes it?s just wise to tell yourself
that you?ve learned a valuable (and expensive) lesson and cut your
losses.

JUDICIARY OF RHODE ISLAND
http://www.courts.state.ri.us/district/rightsinsmallclaims.htm
  
Like I said, an attorney could better advise you as to what you can or
should do. I recommend that you take his or her advice. You may be
able to find a lawyer who can offer a free or low cost consultation
through the Rhode Island Bar Association?s Lawyer Referral Service or
Reduced Fee Program. This way you might be able to get some free
advice and find out what your chances or recovery your property using
any of the methods I outlined from a knowledgeable attorney without
having to pay an hourly rate (participating attorneys have agreed to
provide an initial consultation of up to one-half hour free of charge
in most qualifying cases).

RHODE ISLAND BAR ASSOCIATION
http://www.ribar.com/public/choose.asp
LAWYER REFERRAL SERVICE AND REDUCED FEE PROGRAM:
http://www.ribar.com/public/needalawyer.asp

I hope you find that my answer exceeds your expectations. If you have
any questions about my research please post a clarification request
prior to rating the answer. Otherwise I welcome your rating and your
final comments and I look forward to working with you again in the
near future. Thank you for bringing your question to us.

Best regards;

Tutuzdad-ga ? Google Answers Researcher


[INFORMATION SOURCES]

State of Rhode Island General Laws
CHAPTER 11-41
Theft, Embezzlement, False Pretenses, and Misappropriation
http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE11/11-41/INDEX.HTM


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RHODE ISLAND

CIVIL

CRIMINAL

THEFT

SMALL CLAIMS

CODE

BAR ASSOCIATION
ilingirl-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
tutuzdad-ga, thanks so much for the excellent advice.  You've given me
alternate ways of settling this situation.

Comments  
Subject: Re: Roomates
From: triumfdoogooder-ga on 23 Nov 2006 10:43 PST
 
If you know her routine and when she'd be home, I suggest going with a
u-haul truck and police escort and get your stuff prompto.  She can't
stop you for any reason even if you owe any back rent.  She'll be
advised to pursue that in the civil court.  Goodluck.
Subject: Re: Roomates
From: mvguy-ga on 24 Nov 2006 11:54 PST
 
Just to add one thing to Tutuzdad-ga's excellent answer: Even if you
win in small-claims court, you still have to collect the money. That
can be both a hassle and expensive if the ex-roomie wants to make
things difficult.

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