Under California law, you may have not only a criminal claim for theft against someone who takes your property, you may also have a civil claim against them for conversion. Conversion is an intentional tort, which is a type of transgression for which the perpetrator can be held civilly liable.

Generally, conversion applies only to personal property, and not to real estate. An item of jewelry, some cash, or other movable object, may be converted. In the U.S., both tangible and intangible property can be converted.

What is a Conversion?

Conversion is defined as intentional interference with the property of another, with the intent to deprive them of it. In order to be considered conversion, the following elements must be present:

  • Plaintiff (person who owned the property and sues for conversion) had ownership or right to the property at the time of conversion
  • Defendant (person who converted the property and is being sued) took the property wrongfully and without plaintiff’s consent.
  • Plaintiff suffered damages as a result.

Can Real Property Be Converted in California?

Real property, or land, as mentioned above, cannot be converted in California, or anywhere in the U.S. Fixtures that can be separated from property may be converted.

Can Money and Other Financial Instruments Be Converted in California?

Yes. Money and financial instruments, such as stocks and bonds, may be converted. For money to be converted, it must be a specific sum capable of being identified. However, it does not need to be earmarked.

Is Conversion Limited to the Actual Physical Taking of Another Person’s Property?

No. There are various ways that property can be converted besides being physically taken away. Examples include:

  • Destroying the property
  • Altering the property so that it cannot be used
  • Refusing to record and make a change in ownership after a sale
  • Failure to deliver collected funds for another

Do I Still Have a Valid Conversion Claim if I Have Regained My Property?

Yes. Having regained control over your converted property does not change the fact that it was converted before. You aren’t necessarily suing for the property that was converted, but for the fact that your right and possession to the property was violated.

What Kind of Remedies Do I Have for My Conversion Claim?

Under the California Civil Code, the damages for a claim of conversion are presumed to be:

  • The value of the property at the time of the conversion, with the interest from that time, or, an amount sufficient to indemnify the party injured for the loss which is the natural, reasonable and proximate result of the wrongful act complained of and which a proper degree of prudence on his part would not have averted; and
  • A fair compensation for the time and money properly expended in pursuit of the property.

Are there any Defenses to Conversion?

Yes, there are several possible defenses to conversion. They include:

  • Consent;
  • Privilege (for example someone else with a right to the property may peacefully repossess it); and
  • Self-defense or defense of others.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Conversion Claim?

If someone has converted your property, you should speak to a local California real estate lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your claims, and the complicated legal system. A personal injury lawyer can also represent you in court.