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  • Writer's pictureAngela Desjardins

Interference with chattels

Interference with chattels, commonly called "trespass to chattels," is a legal claim where one person uses or interferes with the personal property of another without authorization. The common law tort has three elements: actual interference, causation, and damages (or intent to cause damage). A claim for trespass to a chattel may be brought for personal or real property that is tangible and moveable.

Chattel is a movable thing that is not real property. It can be tangible or intangible, and it may be movable because it can be displaced from one place to another. Some examples of chattel include:

  • clothing

  • furniture

  • cars

Interference is a legal concept classified as intentional or unintentional, direct or indirect, active or passive. Interference occurs when one person's actions intentionally prevent another from doing something they otherwise could do. Or when the action is intended to cause harm by creating inconvenience, expense, or loss of reputation to the other party.

Interference with chattels is an intentional tort and differs from trespassing. It involves interference with personal property rather than physical intrusion into someone's property (as with trespass). Some types of interference include:

  • Taking someone else's belongings without their permission;

  • Damaging someone else's belongings;

  • Creating loud noises next door so that you can't hear yourself think;

  • Using your neighbour's WiFi connection without their knowledge

Trespass to chattels is a civil tort or private legal wrong. The tort of trespass is committed when a person intentionally interferes with another person's chattel or personal property. Trespass to chattels can also be committed by an omission which causes interference with property. For example, an owner who doesn't fix a broken lock on his door might be liable for any theft that occurs as a result.

Conversion is the unauthorized use of a chattel. It is a tort, meaning that it's an intentional or reckless act causing harm. The chattel owner can do a conversion, but others can also do it if there's no consent given for that use.

These are three remedies available to a person deprived of their chattel: detinue, replevin and reclamation. These three remedies are to recover possession of a chattel taken without permission or unlawfully detained. Detinue is the most widely used remedy for recovering property taken from its owner. Detinue is commonly used when an item can be returned to its owner in the same condition as when it was stolen. Replevin provides additional protection against losses caused by wrongful detainer. It allows owners to take back their goods even if they cannot return them in their original state (for example, if they were damaged while being held). Reclamation is another option that gives owners more flexibility than detinue. This remedy allows owners to claim lost property even if it cannot be returned intact. Or without significant deterioration due to damage incurred during improper storage conditions.

The remedy for trespass to chattel is an action for damages. Conversion is a tort that occurs when one person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly converts the personal property of another without consent and, in so doing, causes damage to the owner's property. It is a form of theft because you take control of someone else's property without their permission or consent. However, it differs from theft as it does not require any intention to permanently deprive the owner of their goods or money. Only an intention to interfere with the possession of those goods or money may be restored by repossession (restoration).

You must have a good faith belief in your claim to the chattel. If you don't, the court will probably not award you damages.

Good faith belief is a requirement of the tort of conversion, detinue and replevin, but not for recaption.

The tort of interference with chattels requires actual damage to the property. Shown by proving the plaintiff's use and enjoyment of their goods were impaired by the defendant's conduct, the value of the goods was diminished, or both. Courts have traditionally ruled only monetary damages are recoverable under this tort. It is unlikely a court would award damages for emotional distress arising from the defendant's conduct. Therefore, if you want to bring a claim against another person who has interfered with your property and caused you mental distress. As a result, your best course of action is to sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

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