Thieving, lying landlords
July 13, 2014 5:35 AM   Subscribe

How do I get my belongings back from a thieving police officer and his lying, thieving wife?

I lived in a condo from May 2012 until March of this year. The entire time I've lived there, I've been harassed by my landlords. (really, just by his crazy wife) Whether it was text messages telling me that I have 24 hours before they do a walk through (usually monthly) and then they would never show to times when my rent was late, (even after she agreed to give me a little more time to pay), showing up randomly and yelling at me in the front yard. She has also made threats to be in my house when I get name it. In February of this year, I had had enough. I told her that I was moving out and gave her a date of March 23rd as my last weekend there. She agreed to the date. I had been spending most of my time at my fiancé's house anyway. On March 23rd, we got a moving truck and went to the condo, only to find most of my stuff had been moved out to the garage and a ton of stuff was missing. Of course they showed up while we were moving and explained to me that they had evicted me with a possession warrant for abandonment the week before, which had been expedited (because of him being an officer no doubt) and they now owned everything in my condo. Even during one of my trips back to my fiancé's house with a truck full of stuff, she came in and stole even more stuff. All in all, about $5,000 worth of my belongings are missing. When I confronted him about it, he assured me that once he had the keys and the garage door opener back, they would return my stuff. Well, they didn't and now she is saying they never took anything. I've been watching craigslist to see if she is trying to sell any of my stuff, but no luck so far. I know you are not my lawyer, but what options do I have here? I can't really afford an attorney right now and I'm afraid to go file a report because of the "good ol' boy" network here. Thanks in advance.
posted by Amalie-Suzette to Law & Government (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Isn't police corruption why Internal Affairs exists? That might be your best bet.
posted by JMOZ at 5:39 AM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you tell us the country, state, and city where you live? That will help us figure out what your options are in terms of the legal system.

In most place in the US, this would be an illegal eviction. In most places in the US, that issue would be handled through the civil courts, in which the fact that he is a police officer would have very little weight. In most places in the US, taking $5000 of a tenant's stuff during an illegal eviction would be felony theft (and maybe burglary, depending on how they entered your home to get it). In many places in the US, you could go to a special agency, either the prosecutor's office or an independent agency, to file a report and ask that criminal felony charges be filed against these people. In most places in the US, a police officer charged with a felony would be a really big deal that would affect his job in the future.

But in order for us to know whether any of that is true, we need to know where you are, so that we can point you towards laws and resources that would apply to you.

posted by decathecting at 5:46 AM on July 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

Only knowing your side of the story isn't going to help us help you. You may want to find some free legal help in your area.
posted by k8t at 5:52 AM on July 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

a possession warrant for abandonment

now she is saying they never took anything.

Part of me is wondering if part 1 is a bluff. Did you see documentation? It would be odd to follow through with part 1, yet not find stuff.

I know that you don't want to go through a lawyer, but having had to deal with (not a landlord, but person renting the house) someone like this once, a lawyer can suggest wording to move things forward and I believe get the other party to do things, often not needing to go to court.

I can't tell your background from your post, but if you are a student or grad student, sometimes universities have legal services that are free for students. Or there might be low cost options in your area.

I am also hoping that you documented things, such as not just tell them "I am leaving on date X", but send a letter informing them of the move out date. Was your rent also up to date?

you could send a letter by certified mail stating (on day X, I sent Y, on day Z, you did Q). But really, I think a lawyer will save you time.
posted by Wolfster at 6:04 AM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

You absolutely need to seek legal help in your area — search for free services that can at the very least get you on the right track

Document everything that has transpired.

Document all of the things that are missing.
posted by ageispolis at 6:05 AM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Certainly you need to look in to the local eviction law. Eviction is a process involving a court order--was there an actual court order?

Whatever you do, I would also look in to reframing the situation before taking any action. I realize this is an angry internet post, and possibly not how you would actually word it officially were you to take some action, but...

Your complaint of ongoing "harassment" here is a little shaky. Giving you 24 hour notice if it is possible they will do a walk-through is a good (and probably required) thing, not harassment. Yelling is not nice, but by your wording it sounds like you were more than once late with rent. It's also a little hard to tell from your wording, but it does sound like you gave verbal notice and then spent significant time out of the condo--if notice was really posted and you did not respond or ever show up during that time, that may make things more difficult for you. I've been a renter my whole adult life, and known plenty of crappy landlords, but I've got to say that on paper (or internet I guess) right now your case seems a little weak. I would leave out any inflammatory claims you cannot back up, produce whatever documentation you can to support your case, and just file a claim or whatever is the legal process where you are.

Tenants rights are a thing and an internet search should lead you to the relevant laws and processes for your area.
posted by freejinn at 6:20 AM on July 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

Certainly, if these folks have been a problem, you put your move out notification in writing and you sent it to them certified mail. So that's one thing. It's even better if you emailed or texted a follow up so you have an electronic trail.

Call the courthouse and find out if there is, in fact eviction paperwork. If there is, ask for proof of service.

Then, file charges against the couple for theft, and/or go to small claims court for recovery of your possessions, cost of replacement, etc.

Another option would be to file a claim against your renter's insurance for theft, then your insurance can go after your landlords on your behalf.

I will say if you've been late on the rent, hard on the property or any other such thing, that they may have strong feelings about you too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 AM on July 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Call internal affairs. That's a real pressure point. If it is a small department I wouldn't expect much, but if it is a city department the guy will take some real heat.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:13 AM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

When you say you gave her a date of March 23, was it clear in your communication to her that the day the place would actually be *vacant* would be the 24th? I'm not saying you don't have a possible case to pursue here, but I'm wondering about that particular detail. How exactly did you word your move-out notice? I'm assuming you put it in writing.
posted by nacho fries at 7:29 AM on July 13, 2014

Internal affairs isn't going to help with a non police matter. Get a lawyer or legal aid and figuare exactly where you stand. Do you have a list of what's missing? Do you have the keys and garage door opener to hands over?
Document where you were during the week in question so you can prove that you did not abandon the place or your property.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:44 AM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the only effect going to internal affairs would have (if they even give you the time of day, which they won't) would be to tip your hand to the cop in question, and put him on alert that you are pursuing some sort of action against him, and give him and his wife time to cover their tracks and get their story straight. This is not a good strategy. Play your cards close to your vest, get some legal counsel, and let the pros handle this.
posted by nacho fries at 9:27 AM on July 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

You really have to get a lawyer on this--start with a landlord/tenant specialist. You may not have been served properly with the eviction notice. They may not have complied with certain mandatory procedures. Either, or something else entirely, might be grounds for undoing the seizure. I am a lawyer, but I'm not a landlord-tenant lawyer, and I wouldn't know where to start, which is why to start with a specialist.

You may also be able to file a warrant in detinue (or that's what we call it in Virginia--just a civil action, in district court, saying that they unlawfully took possession of your property).

Don't waste time trying to decide what to do. There are often short deadlines in landlord-tenant matters. Call L-T lawyers until you find one who can see you ASAP and get rolling.

Search to get a head start.
posted by radicalawyer at 12:01 PM on July 13, 2014

I was going to write some stuff about illegal evictions and landlords i had seen do this, and how it was handled... but no, just go talk to a lawyer.

You can't really afford a lawyer. But can you afford to replace $5000+ worth of your stuff? I realize the answer to both could potentially be no, but i would be eating food bank food and shutting my internet off to pay that lawyer.
posted by emptythought at 3:07 PM on July 13, 2014

Get a lawyer. This screams all kinds of illegal. Of course, it varies based on your exact tenants rights, and what your state has legislated.

To be clear and to give you an example: in Chicago Il, this would be illegal in the following ways: (your housing laws WILL be different!)

1) a LL cannot do an inspection of your unit just because. For regular maintenance issues you need 48 hours notice/and or permission (for pest control, fixing a stove, whatever) unless it is an emergency situation (flood, fire kind of stuff).

2) An eviction for abandonment. This process takes at least 2-3 months. One you have to 1)not pay your rent. 2) you have to not be on the property at ALL for 30 days. 3) that have to make reasonable attempts to try and find and notify you. 4.) the landlord has to get a lawyer and/or pay for the filing of an eviction 5) a court date has to be set, and a judge has to give the order that it is ok. 5) the sheriff comes out to change the locks and 'kick you out'. 6) The landlord must keep your belongings for 30 days before disposal.

They are lying to you. Straight up. Unless you have not been paying your rent and they evicted you on that, you weren't evicted at all. Call the police and file a report of theft, breaking an entering. Basically you came home and your landlord claimed that all your stuff was his stuff.

Even better if you didn't sign lease termination agreement, and have your original lease. The police station can look up really quick if there is an actual order against you. If not, then according to them it is still your residence.

Police first. Lawyer second.

This sounds like a landlord scam. Also, if you have renters insurance, use it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:41 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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