Getting Your Stuff Back

You should read this if someone else has property that is yours and you want to get it back. This may have happened because someone took something of yours without your permission or because you let someone borrow something, but they refused to return it. #6312EN

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

You should read this if someone else has property that is yours and you want to get it back. This may have happened because someone took something of yours without your permission or because you let someone borrow something, but they refused to return it.

Examples:

  • Your landlord said you abandoned your apartment and won't give your stuff back. You are behind on rent, and your landlord decides takes your things to try to make you pay.

  • You loaned your car to a friend but when you asked them to return the car, they wouldn't.

  • You were living with a roommate but it wasn't going well. When you tried to move out, they wouldn't let you take your cat with you.  

It depends on the situation.

  • If someone stole your property, you should consider reporting it to the police.

  • Cars or other vehicles: You may be trying to get back a car or other vehicle that was towed away. The car or vehicle may have important items in them that you want to get back.  Read They Towed My Car to learn more.

  • After a lock out of a rental apartment or house: You may be trying to get access to your belongings after your landlord locked you out without a court order. Read My landlord locked me out: What can I do? to learn more.

  • After an eviction:  If a judge gives a landlord an eviction order against you, the sheriff's eviction notice is supposed to tell you about how to ask your landlord to store your stuff if you can't move it in time.  The landlord can charge you storage fees. If you don't ask your landlord in writing to store the stuff within 3 days after the sheriff's eviction notice, the landlord may put your stuff outside, usually between the sidewalk and the street.  Read "Eviction and Your Defense" to learn more.

  • Divorce: If an ex-spouse took property that is yours, you could get a court order making them give the property back through a dissolution (divorce) case. Read Getting a Divorce: Dividing Property & Debts to learn more.

  • Break-up: If the relationship was "marriage-like," a court can still divide the property through a different process. Read Washington Property Law for Unmarried Couples to learn more.

  • Replaceable Items: You may not care about the item itself; you just want the value of the item back, so you could get a new one. You can file a small claim to get the other person to give you money for the item that they have.  To learn more about filing in small claims court, read How do I sue in Small Claims Court?

  • If none of the above apply, your only option may be Replevin.

Replevin is a legal process used to return specific items to the rightful owner. A judge can decide who the rightful owner is, and then issue an order (sometimes called a writ of replevin) that allows the sheriff to go to the place where the items are and take the items. The replevin process is complicated. You should only use this process if it is the only option. For example, the replevin process might be worth it if you need to get back an item that cannot be replaced, like a pet, a family heirloom, or photographs.  

*A Writ of Replevin is also sometimes called an Order Awarding Possession.

All of the following must be true:

  • It must be personal property (movable objects), not real property (land or a house). Manufactured/Mobile homes, vehicles and animals are all personal property.

  • It must be identifiable. You will need to know some specific details about the item to make sure the item returned is yours.

  • You must own the items. You must have bought the item or received it as a gift. It is better if you have documents that show the item is yours, like a receipt or photos with the item.

  • You should know where the items are located. If you get a Writ of Replevin, the next step is to give the order to the sheriff, who will try to go get the items. If you don't know where the items are located, the sheriff will not be able to go get them, but you may still have to pay the sheriff's fees.

If someone has your stuff, you should send them a demand letter asking them to return the property to you. Be specific about what things you want back, where or how they should be returned and when you want them back. Keep a copy of the letter you send. Sample letters are at the end. If you speak a language other than English, you should give the person who has your stuff a copy of the demand letter in English as well as in your language.

You only have 3 years to use the replevin process to get your items back. The 3 years starts when the items are taken.

The steps you have to take to get a Writ of Replevin are different depending on the county, but there are four general stages:

  • Filing: You will have to give documents to the court that explain what was taken, by whom and when. You will need to show the court proof that these items belong to you.  You will also have to tell the other person that you are starting a court case against them.

  • Hearing: There will be a hearing where the judge will decide if it has enough information to order that the items be given back to you, or if it needs more information. The court can order that the items be temporarily returned, until a final decision is made later.

    • Post Bond: If the court decides there is enough information to believe the items should be returned to you, you may have to post a bond (pay the court money that you may get back later) to take the next step in the process.

  • Decision: The court may make a decision at the first hearing, especially if the other person doesn't show up or give any more information. Sometimes, the court needs both people to explain in more detail before a decision is made, so the court will set the case for trial. Either way, the case will end with a final order. This order could require that the items be returned to you, or the court could decide that the items aren't actually yours and the other person can keep them.

  • Execution: If the court decides that the item is yours, you will get an order that requires the items to be returned to you. You will need to take this order to the sheriff's office so they can get the item back for you. You will need to pay additional fees and another bond. (See the table below for information on your county, if available.)

Probably. If you have a low income, you may be able to ask the court to waive the filing fee for the case, but there are additional fees and costs to actually get your stuff back. You may be able to get those fees and costs back if you win the case. You will still have to pay them up front and you might not get them back, even if you win. The judge may award you the fees and costs in the final order. If you are trying to get your stuff back from a landlord, you may have special rights. For example, you may not be required to post a bond, which should make it cheaper for you to get your stuff back.

In addition to fees for the court case, you will have to pay the sheriff a fee to go get the property, after you get an order from the court. We have included a list of links below where you may be able to find more information about costs in certain counties.  

You may have had to buy replacement items because someone has your stuff. You may be able to ask for damages (money that the other person has to pay you) so you can get some money back in addition to getting the items back.

*If the court decides that the landlord took your stuff, you may have the right to damages of up to $500 per day that you didn't have your stuff (but no more than $5,000 total).

If the court decides that the items are yours, the court will sign an order that says that. You will then need to take that order to the sheriff. There will usually be some other information you need to give the sheriff and you will need to pay additional fees and another bond. Someone from the sheriff's office may then go to the place where you think the items are and try to get the stuff back.

Where can I get more directions about what to do once I get a Writ of Replevin?

Some counties have additional information available on a website. We have linked those websites below. If the county you need isn't listed, it is because the county didn't have any information when we wrote this.

Chelan County

Clark County

Douglas County

Island County

Jefferson County

King County

Pierce County

Skagit County

Snohomish County

Thurston County

Whatcom County

Yakima County

 

            [date]

                              [name of landlord]
                              [landlord street address]
                              [landlord town/city, state, zip code]

Dear                                                  [landlord name]:


This letter is in reference to the things you took from the apartment/house I rented from you at                                [your address].

On or about                                [date items were taken], you took the following items from my residence: ____________________

According to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, you cannot enter the rental premises without my consent, except in the event of an emergency or if you have a court order that authorizes entry [RCW 59.18.150]. Also, you cannot take or detain my personal property without my written consent. If you fail to return my property, you may be liable for the value of the property you took, any damage to the property and possibly up to $500 per day or $5,000 total; you may also be liable for the costs of a lawsuit plus attorney fees [RCW 59.18.230(4)]. 

Please consider this letter a written demand that you immediately return my personal property. Please call                            [your phone number] so we can work out how you will get the items to me.

If you do not immediately return the items listed above, I will seek assistance from the Superior Court and/or the County Sheriff to retrieve my possessions.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

 

             [date]

                         [name of person who has your property]
                         [street address of person who has your property]

                         [name of person who has your property]:

This letter is in reference to the following items of mine that you currently have in your possession: _____________________[description of property with identifying details]. You have had these items since (approximately) _________________________________ [date]. I have attempted numerous times to retrieve these items but have been unsuccessful.

This letter serves as written notice that you must return these items to me in good condition by ________ [date]. If you fail to return the items by this date, I can initiate legal action against you. If I do initiate legal action, you may be liable for damages, court costs, attorneys' fees, and costs of recovery, in addition to return of the property (RCW 7.64.035).

Please call me immediately at                  [your phone number] so we can work out how you will get the items to me.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: Aug 08, 2022
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