What's the statute of limitations for property theft in NYC?
May 10, 2021 4:58 AM   Subscribe

I asked someone to hold my stuff while I was moving and they agreed, but then when I was ready to retrieve it, they kept making excuses as to why I couldn't pick the stuff up and also they refused to send it back to me. I never got my things back. The small claims court website says the statue for property damage is 3 years... but as far as I know nothing is damaged. He just won't give my things back. So I guess it's just theft. I moved out of NYC since then and would rather deal with this whenever I have a stretch of time where I'm able to stay in NY again. So I need to know how long I have to do this?
posted by fantasticness to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you want the person prosecuted for theft, or do you want your stuff back/payment for your stuff? If the latter, it's probably the small claims court statute of limitations that's of more interest to you than the criminal statute of limitations. You had a contract (verbal, I'm assuming) that this person would hold your stuff for you, and you now consider them to be in breach of that contract for not returning the stuff to you when you asked for it. So (I am not a lawyer) I think the small claims court breach of contract statute of limitations (six years) is probably the one you need to be concerned about.

But if you actually want your stuff back, you should pursue ASAP regardless. Filing suit within the statute of limitations doesn't really help you if your stuff is already sold or taken to Goodwill or whatever.
posted by mskyle at 5:24 AM on May 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Unfortunately I can't pursue asap because I'm not going to be physically in the state to pursue anything right now. That's why it'll have to wait.

But this person had every opportunity to allow me to pick them up OR send these things to me and they refused. So if they got rid of my stuff I'll sue for the monetary value. Text messages can easily prove they had my things and didn't return them- they just don't prove WHAT those things were because we never went into detail about them via text. Then he stopped all contact with me. I'll just have to do my best in court I guess.
posted by fantasticness at 5:59 AM on May 10, 2021

Google says that the statue of limitations on theft/larceny is two or five years, depending on the facts. But I'm skeptical that a prosecutor is going to file a charge of theft for you.

This page may be of some help: New York City Small Claims Court.

If the claim is for less than $10,000 and you are willing to settle for the money and not the stuff ("a case must seek money only") it seems to fit under #3 on the page. "3. Failure to return security, property, a deposit, or money loaned."

However, you're going to have to file a suit and deal with this as the court has time to hear it - which may not be convenient for you. Then again, filing the suit and making it clear that you will drag this person into court over it might be enough to persuade them to return your goods.

Since the question is super-light on details (what is the nature of the "stuff"? How long has it been so far? Is there anything in writing? Did you compensate this person in any way for their holding your stuff for you? Are there other factors -- e.g., you've had a falling out with this person in the meantime?) it's not 100% clear that small claims court will work. If the goal is your stuff and not compensation, you're probably out of luck.

From the information we do have, it sounds to me like either they have appropriated your stuff and have decided to keep it, or it's been disposed of in some fashion already. If you're willing to pick it up with no additional effort on their part, there's no reason for them not to return it if they still have it unless they just don't want to give it up.

It's not impossible that you could get your stuff back, but you're in a very weak position here unless you have documentation of an agreement to return your items and so forth.
posted by jzb at 6:02 AM on May 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm not a NY lawyer.

You may want to do some reading on the concepts of bailment and the tort of conversion and how the latter relates to "theft" in NY law.

In some places, conversion can also be a crime, in some places it is a civil action that maps exactly to the criminal act of theft, in some cases the mapping is less direct.

It appears that in NY, conversion is the civil action counterpart to theft. So this is the action you would be pursuing to be compensated for your losses.

The statute of limitations in NY appears to be three years however you should do some research on when that starts. I think it would be hard to argue that the conversion happened before the first time you asked for your things back.
posted by atrazine at 10:26 AM on May 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

One thing to do now is figure out how to preserve your texts in a way that would be acceptable in court. I don't know if that's screenshots or transcripts from the phone company or what but those could be easily lost in the time before you file suit.
posted by entropyiswinning at 11:14 AM on May 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Not a lawyer, but it might be helpful to find out for certain whether you need to be physically in NY to pursue filing whatever you end up filing. I doubt it makes a difference where YOU are, rather the SUIT or claim needs to be filed before the statute of limitations runs out in the appropriate jurisdiction. Waiting until you are physically present in NY may negate your claim if it exceeds this deadline.
posted by citygirl at 11:31 AM on May 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

I am not your lawyer. This is not legal advice. You should probably assume that anyone here giving you specific advice applying the law to your situation isn't a lawyer, either, and discount accordingly.

The statute of limitations in New York for a breach of contract (oral or written), including a breach of contract relating to a bailment, is six years. The statute of limitations for the tort of conversion is three. When any statute of limitations begins "running" is not always obvious. I would suggest Googling these terms, sticking to discussions that are NY state-specific.

The remedy in both cases is generally damages, not return of the property in question.
posted by praemunire at 12:22 PM on May 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not a lawyer, but this seems like it could be related to what you want, when you talk to a lawyer:
2012 New York Consolidated Laws
CVP - Civil Practice Law & Rules
Article 71 - (7101 - 7112) RECOVERY OF CHATTEL

(For all I know that's considered sovereign-citizen crazy. I just put "New York replevin" in google because I remember the word from a property law presentation once. That's why you need to consult a real lawyer.)
posted by ctmf at 3:08 PM on May 10, 2021

This seems to be a similar situation.
Remember, you can win a court order that he has to pay the full amount plus legal fees, and he can simply not pay. Then you have another process to collect the funds or his possessions to auction off.
posted by Sophont at 3:25 PM on May 10, 2021

In New York, at least, "costs" are not equivalent to "legal fees."
posted by praemunire at 3:33 PM on May 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

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