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Tortious Offense with Intentional Interference with Property

Tortious Offense with Intentional Interference with Property

The Tortious offense of Intentional Interference with Property is divided amongst three specific charges in the United States’ tort law. All three charges involve the element of intent, which provides that the defendant is of sound mind and acts of his or her own free will and desire. As the charges of Intentional Interference with Property are tort and not criminal charges, the necessity of wrongful intent is not present.  The burden of proof lies solely on the prosecution’s ability to prove intent. The charges of Intentional interference with property include trespass to land, trespass to chattels, and the charge of conversion.

Trespass to Land:


Conversion is a tort of strict liability which consists of an intentional act that violates the property ownership and associated rights of another. Conversion is considered a more serious charge than Trespass to Land or Trespass to Chattels. The main difference between the aforementioned property interferences and the interference of conversion is the clear necessity of misuse. One’s property must be deliberately misused by the defender in order to qualify as conversion.

Trespass to Chattels:

The property tort of Trespass to Land consists of any unauthorized entry onto private property.  The key point in tort litigation of Trespass to Land is the definition of unauthorized. Authorized entry onto land comes in the form of a license, either written or implied. Implied licenses to enter land include uses of public access to land such as sidewalks or front doors. Other licenses include written permission or work order to conduct business on the property as commissioned or approved by the owner.  It is important to note, however, that licensees may still be charged with trespass if they violate the terms of their license or operate outside its terms. 
Conversion:
Conversion is a tort of strict liability which consists of an intentional act that violates the property ownership and associated rights of another. Conversion is considered a more serious charge than Trespass to Land or Trespass to Chattels. The main difference between the aforementioned property interferences and the interference of conversion is the clear necessity of misuse. One’s property must be deliberately misused by the defender in order to qualify as conversion.

How to Establish a Change of Conversion

How to Establish a Change of Conversion

To establish a charge of conversion, one must first establish that the property in contest is legally theirs, and, more importantly, was legally theirs at the time of the alleged conversion. The claimant must then prove that the defendant violated his or her property rights intentionally, and – in doing so – brought about ascertainable damages resulting from the alleged conversion. 

The tort of conversion is not to be confused with its criminal counterpart, the charge of larceny or theft. Conversion stipulates a deliberate violation/misuse of one's property rights, while larceny essentially means to take property of another, unlawfully as one's own.  In a conversion case, misuse is the gist while in a larceny case, acquisition and possession is key.

Misuse of property is a broad term which may be applicable to a variety of acts. Acts must be intentional, but do not necessarily need to have wrongful intent to be considered conversion. Conversion tort may not arise from execution of government mandated duties. Law enforcement personnel may commandeer property for official use with just cause, as well as force entry into areas possibly resulting in structural damage to homes, vehicles, etc. 

Actions following a government or private contract with the owner are also not considered conversion when the owner's property is used in terms set forth by the contract. Common disputes over conversion include trees severed and converted to lumber. Cutting trees for lumber is not conversion if the service is rendered via contract with the property owner. 

Conversely, if lumber is cut outside the specified area, or without contract on private property, conversion charges apply, as do possible trespassing charges. Lumber is utility wood converted from severed trees; trees constitute private property.  Such a conversion without the owner's permission is considered misuse.

Recipients of a conversion tort may be able to take several defenses to dispute the charge. Abandonment is a complete defense to allegations of conversion.  To constitute abandonment, the defendant must assert and prove that the property in question was abandoned without a legal owner before he or she took it for his or her own use. Contact a property lawyer to consult your case.

Consent to the conversion is another complete defense. If the owner agrees to let the defendant use his or her property implicitly or via contract, the defendant is not liable for conversion charges.  The defendant may be exempt from conversion charges if the assets owned by the plaintiff were given to him or her for purposes of fraud.  If the plaintiff gives the defendant assets for the purpose of avoiding creditors or payment of debts, he or she may not sue the defendant for misuse, as fraud is not protected by property rights.