Whose money is it?
June 23, 2012 4:07 AM   Subscribe

Whose money is it?

About 6 weeks ago I was burgled. I didn't lose much but our lodger, who was about to move out, had his laptop stolen. He didn't have insurance, but I claimed on my household insurance. He needed a laptop urgently, so my neighbour gave/lent/sold him a similar laptop. I don't know the exact agreement they had but they apparently have different recollections. N says he was selling the laptop. L says he was being lent the laptop. L moved out to a different town 2 days later.

Fast forward 6 weeks. I have a cheque from the insurance company. N claims the money as payment for the laptop he gave to L. L says the laptop is no good and wants to return it and for me to send him the cheque. He says it will cost £50 to repair and N knew it was no good. N doesn't want the laptop back.

What do I do? Legally (UK law only, please), and morally, whose money is it?

I'm stuck in the middle here and I really don't want to get sucked into a dispute that as far as I can see, has nothing to do with me.
posted by salmacis to Law & Government (18 answers total)
Unless you brokered the arrangement between L and N, it is indeed nothing to do with you. Your contract/liability is with L. Send L the money.
posted by likeso at 4:23 AM on June 23, 2012 [16 favorites]

I can't address the legal question at all, but it seems obvious that the money you got for the lodger's stolen laptop belongs to the lodger. His arrangements with your neighbor is none of your concern.

On preview: exactly.
posted by jon1270 at 4:24 AM on June 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Obviously, it's one word against another about whether the laptop was loaned or sold.

However, REGARDLESS of whether the laptop was loaned or sold, N should not receive the full cheque amount. Even if it was indeed sold to L, N should only receive an amount that is equivalent to the current value of the laptop. At the very most, N should only get paid the laptop in its current state, taking into account quick depreciation and short lifespans of laptops. The value of laptops are half of their original worth after only one year of use, assuming full working condition. If the laptop was bought for £500 and is now one year old, then it's current value is approximately £250. If the laptop needs a £50 repair, then it's worth £200. If its two years old, then the value halves further (£125).

Of course, this assumes the laptop was sold and not loaned. It seems pretty unlikely to me why anyone would want to buy a used laptop when they knew they could get a new one when insurance is claimed. Perhaps a good will gesture might be sufficient here: L gets the cheque minus £50 or so, as a gesture of thanks to N who so kindly loaned L the laptop in these tough times.
posted by moiraine at 4:25 AM on June 23, 2012

I have no clue on the legalities here, but I would definitely not send L any money until the laptop is returned. That said, I think L's claims to the money are much stronger.(I am talking morally here, not legally)

Let's assume there was an agreement to sell , if N gets the laptop back, N's harm is not much greater that the 6 week loss of use.

Now let's assume a loan. Presumably L had a nice laptop for which there is now a check large enough to get a replacement. L accepted a loan of a substandard/outdated laptop in desperation due to factors outside of his control and due to no cause of his own--the burglary. L's harm is that he is out his original laptop. But "Yay!" ... there is insurance money given to mitigate that loss. If you give the money to N, L has essentially purchased a crappy laptop at a grossly inflated price and does not have the money to buy a suitable replacement.

N might morally be entitled to some sort of monetary gesture of thanks for 6 weeks of use, but I can't see N being morally entitled to profit at the expense of N (who was the party originally harmed by the burglary)
posted by murrey at 4:50 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Without knowing who is telling the truth, it's impossible to know who has the better moral claim. But you had nothing to do with this transaction, and they're not asking you to mediate or arbitrate it, so give the insurance money for L's laptop to L.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:59 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, N saying he doesn't want the laptop back doesn't really mean anything. To keep matters somewhat civil with your neighbor, tell L that you will give him the money once he delivers the laptop back N. then N can turn around and sell it or whatever.
posted by dawkins_7 at 5:25 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Per many above, your only debt is to L. Period. Only L can reassign that debt to N. You can certainly express to L your wish that he settle shit up with N (and make sure that N knows you did it) for your sake, but that's all it should be.
posted by Etrigan at 6:58 AM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

The insurance claim was for L's lap-top.

The transaction between N and L is separate and apart from the insurance claim. If either N or L are unhappy about that transaction, they need to work that out themselves.

Imagine if you car got totalled and you bought a new car. The insurance company is NOT sending a check to the car dealership. The insurance company is sending a check to the person that suffered a loss and made a claim on that loss.

I don't see how N has any claim to the money.
posted by Flood at 7:00 AM on June 23, 2012

Even if they agreed that N sold the laptop to L, you would give the money to L who would then pay N for the laptop. Your transaction with L is separate and apart from theirs, so do your transaction first, then they can do theirs however they decide.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:10 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Echoing all of the above, but also noting that N's behavior in refusing to take back the laptop is slightly suspicious. (Too late you bought it, now you're stuck with it, the money's mine.) If it was a fair transaction and the laptop was worth that amount of money, he could recover it and sell it to someone else.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:46 AM on June 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

They are both behaving badly by pressuring you. You were a good egg and put in the claim. Tell them to work it out and let you know the result. If they can't, find someone sensible and fair, ask them both to talk to Sensible N. Fair,. making their case. Pay Sensible off the top of the claim, and follow Sensible's recommendations.
posted by theora55 at 1:00 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the laptop was lent to L and it died on his watch then he is responsible to get N an equal replacement. If all parties are reasonable, you should all get together, you with the money to replace the stolen laptop and come to an amenable agreement. Unfortunately L has had some bad luck but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have to share the cost of N's laptop replacement.
posted by JJ86 at 1:14 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You really only have an obligation to L. Send the check and get him/her to sign a receipt. You are done. N can sue L for the computer transaction.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:48 PM on June 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Tell them to work it out and let you know the result. If they can't, find someone sensible and fair...

I agree with the first half of this suggestion. My second half might be more along the lines of, "Let me know in two weeks. If not, I'll cash the check and donate the sum to [charity]." I don't think you should be in the middle of this, and I'm not sure that finding someone else to serve that role is necessary or smart either.

Morals and ethics and legalities aside, the practicality sucks. There are good arguments for favoring your lodger in the dispute, but in the meantime he's moved out and the other party is somebody you have to continue living next door to. That part is a bind. My more general advice would be to find an option comfortable for you that keeps you out of the middle as much as possible. Good luck.
posted by cribcage at 1:59 PM on June 23, 2012

salmacis: "I'm stuck in the middle here"

Only because you choose to be.

The money belongs to the tenant. Whether or not he owes anyone else in the world money is not your problem. Further, if you give his money away to someone because they told you a story about how they loaned him money/goods/whatever, you are really just paying them out of your own pocket, and you still owe the money to your tenant.

There's not a shadow of a doubt here. Their problem has no bearing on who the insurance money is for.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:03 PM on June 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

First, let's make the assumption it is not the insurance company's money. To do that, we have to assume it was legit to claim it on your insurance. I hope you were upfront about whose laptop it was when you filed the claim.

Assuming you were, it is your flatmate's money to either pay the schnook with the bootleg laptop or not.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:40 PM on June 23, 2012

It's L's money. You have nothing to do with whatever dispute L and N are having, that is between them and you want no part of it. You filed the claim on behalf of L, the money is his, and if N thinks that he is entitled to it then that's his own thing between him and L and none of your business.

Seriously, that dispute between L and N sounds like a big mess and you should Stay. Out. Of. It. Do not allow N and/or L to draw you in and make you pick a side, that is the path of madness. Madness!

Repeat after me: "N, I'm sorry that you're having trouble with L but you're on your own there. This money was a separate thing and I arranged it before the whole business started. I'm just doing what I set out to do originally, and now that I've done that I consider my part done. Good luck."
posted by Scientist at 8:53 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many thanks for all your help. I was thinking along similar lines myself, but I wanted to be sure. I have told L to return N's laptop and I will send him a cheque.
posted by salmacis at 9:18 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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