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It is possible to file a complaint for the value of property wrongfully withheld without an attorney. Conversion is when someone wrongfully uses property of another for their own purposes or alters or destroys it. In an action for conversion, the taking of the property may be lawful, but the retaining of the property is unlawful. To succeed in the action, the plaintiff must prove that he or she demanded the property returned and the defendant refused to do so. Damages may be recovered for the replacement value of the property as well as for the loss of its use.
When a person who is not a landlord agrees to hold property for another, a bailment is created. When the person holding the property, called the bailee, is not being compensated, it is called a gratutous bailment and the bailee must use reasonable care to protect the property.
There are different types of bailments- "bailments for hire" in which the custodian (bailee) is paid, "constructive bailment" when the circumstances create an obligation upon the custodian to protect the goods, and "gratuitous bailment" in which there is no payment, but the bailee is still responsible. There is a lower standard of care imposed upon the bailee in a gratuitous bailment, and the parties may contract to hold the bailee free from liability in any bailment. As the law of bailments establishes a lower standard of care for the bailee in a gratuitous bailment agreement, such an agreement or receipt should indicate explicitly that the bailee is acting without compensation. When a bailment is for the exclusive benefit of the bailee, the bailee owes a duty of extraordinary care. If the bailment is for the mutual benefit of the bailee and bailor, the bailee owes a duty of ordinary care. A gratuitous bailee must use only slight care and is liable only for gross negligence. To create a bailment, the alleged bailee must have actual physical control with the intent to possess. Physical control and intent to possess will be interpreted according to the expectations of the parties. If a court thinks that liability would be unexpected or unfair, it can usually find that the defendant did not have “physical control” or “intent to possess.” For example, courts are more likely to find a bailment of a car exists in a garage with an attendant than in a park and lock garage.
The following is a FL statute:
715.104 Notification of former tenant of personal property remaining on premises after tenancy has terminated.--
(1) When personal property remains on the premises after a tenancy has terminated or expired and the premises have been vacated by the tenant, through eviction or otherwise, the landlord shall give written notice to such tenant and to any other person the landlord reasonably believes to be the owner of the property.
(2) The notice shall describe the property in a manner reasonably adequate to permit the owner of the property to identify it. The notice may describe all or a portion of the property, but the limitation of liability provided by s. 715.11 does not protect the landlord from any liability arising from the disposition of property not described in the notice, except that a trunk, valise, box, or other container which is locked, fastened, or tied in a manner which deters immediate access to its contents may be described as such without describing its contents. The notice shall advise the person to be notified that reasonable costs of storage may be charged before the property is returned, and the notice shall state where the property may be claimed and the date before which the claim must be made. The date specified in the notice shall be a date not fewer than 10 days after the notice is personally delivered or, if mailed, not fewer than 15 days after the notice is deposited in the mail.
(3) The notice shall be personally delivered or sent by first-class mail, postage prepaid, to the person to be notified at her or his last known address and, if there is reason to believe that the notice sent to that address will not be received by that person, also delivered or sent to such other address, if any, known to the landlord where such person may reasonably be expected to receive the notice.