Conversion is what happens when another party interferes with your personal property without your consent. A good example is when your neighbor borrows your lawnmower without your consent and returns it in a defective state. The law allows you to claim conversion damages from the liable party; you just need to prove these three things:
You Own or Have the Right to the Property
You can only claim damages for a property that you own or have the rights to. For example, if a building contractor leaves equipment at your place overnight and your neighbor converts it, it is the contractor who can claim conversion damages, and not you. If your aunt stores a motorbike in your garage and someone interferes with it, it is the aunt who can make the conversion claim, and not you. In short, proof of ownership will be required to legitimize your claim.
The Defendant Deprived You of the Property's Use
The defendant's interference must have deprived you of the property's use for your conversion claim to hold. For example, a neighbor that "borrows" your lawnmower without your permission clearly deprives you of its use. The same is true of a neighbor that cuts down your tree without your permission. However, a neighbor that cuts some of your tree's roots (on their side of the fence) doesn't deprive you of the tree's use as long as the tree doesn't die; in this case, you can't pursue a conversion claim.
The Defendant Intentionally Interfered With the Property
An analysis of conversion claims must take into consideration the intention of the defendant; they must have interfered with your property knowingly. Consider the following two cases:
- In case one, a neighbor accidentally crashes into your lawnmower while backing out of your driveway
- In case two, a neighbor borrows your lawnmower, removes one of its parts, and uses it to replace a defective part in their lawnmower
Only the second example meets the threshold for a conversion claim because the neighbor's actions are intentional. You may still be able to claim damages in the first example, but not under the legal principle of conversion.
If someone has interfered with your property, contact a local law firm to see whether you have a valid conversion claim. Pursuing criminal charges against the guilty party may see justice done, but won't necessarily rectify the interference. A lawyer will also help you calculate the actual damages for your claim.