Social Question

rebbel's avatar

When does stealing stop being stealing?

Asked by rebbel (27422points) April 28th, 2010

My girlfriend and i had this discussion some time ago.
We were in the mountains on her island when we saw this desolate kalivi (small cottage).
She said that it would be a nice idea if we would once live in that one.
Since it was pretty ruined she figured it probably wasn’t owned by someone anymore.
I said that as long you don’t know if that is the case you can not just assume it and take it as your own and live in it.
What is your take on this?
Is a bicycle that you see standing abandoned somewhere for three years for you to take it?
Can you take home with you that nice vase that you dug up and is possibly 1500 years old?

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9 Answers

jbfletcherfan's avatar

If the cottage doesn’t have her name on the Deed, it’s NOT her’s! Yes, that’s theft.

An abandoned bike for 3 years? It’s still not your’s.

The vase? I’d say that’s fair game, depending on WHERE you dug it up from. In other words, if it’s not your’s, leave it alone.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Stealing is never not stealing despite the rationalization of how much the thief needs it.
If an item is abandoned, then it’s pretty much up for grabs because who is going to file a complaint if someone takes abandoned property?
As for old items of antiquity, those belong to the country of origin and ideally should belong in a museum.

WestRiverrat's avatar

In the US, artifacts not dug up on your own property are the property of the state. Even taking them out of the ground on federal land is a felony.

YARNLADY's avatar

There is such a thing a squatter’s rights, also known as adverse possession. When a squatter lives in an abandoned house for a given length of time (varies per state) they can declare legal right to the land and house.

bobloblaw's avatar

Legally speaking, there are two types of property here. There is real property and then there is personal property. Real property refers to, mostly, land. In most states, someone can acquire land that is not theirs by using Adverse Possession. In most states, the standard for textbook Adverse Possession requires that the squatter:

1) continually use the property for a statutory period,
2) uses the land openly and notoriously,
3) actually uses the property and
4) uses the land hostile to the owner (against the owner’s permission).

Generally speaking, satisfy those requirements and the land is yours. The policy behind this is that, again generally speaking, the courts don’t like seeing land sit idle or constrained to one particular use/purpose into perpetuity.

On the other hand, we also have personal property. That’s usually defined as everything but real property. So bikes, cars, books, clothes, etc are all personal property. As I understand it, there really is no way to get around stealing someone’s personal property. You steal a bike and that’s thievery no matter how you slice it. Subsequent bona fide purchasers on the other hand… ugh, it gets complicated after that.

cfrydj's avatar

@bobloblaw But can adverse possession apply to structures, or just the land?

As for the bike, truly abandoned property (the owner has given up physical possession AND has the intention to abandon it) can be claimed by anyone.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Oh dont get me started on squatter’s rights. I so detest squatters rights.

bobloblaw's avatar

@cfrydj My understanding is that, absent any contrary agreements, it even applies to structures as they are fixtures. A fixture is something that is attached permanently to real property, thus, becoming part of the real property. Attached is sometimes measured as “how difficult it would be to remove the property in question from the real property.” Most fixtures start out as personal property. For example, if you leave the basic raw components to build a house sitting on a some land, those raw materials are still considered your personal property. However, once you build that house using those raw materials, it becomes part of the land/real property, thus, a fixture.

Title to the real property in question will include all fixtures.

cfrydj's avatar

True. I did get an A in property law last year, it’s just that all my studying for Corporations, Civil Procedure, et al., over the last few weeks has wiped all else from my memory.

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