What I Learned About Suing For Conversion In Texas When My Landlord Took My Belongings

This case comes from a reader in Texas whose landlord took some of her belongings while she was still a tenant at the landlord's property. Because it does a good job, I think, of conveying the essential parts of a viable claim for conversion in Texas, we'll recount her case in this article.

The backstory is that the tenant was at work one day when the landlord stopped by to inspect the property. The landlord had given the tenant prior notice of this visit, so the visit itself was not at issue.

Landlord takes tenant's fish tank

An issue arose, however, when the tenant returned home from work to discover that her fish tank was missing. This was immediately apparent, to her, because she had left the fish tank sitting on the living room floor, next to the couch the prior evening, after she had carried it inside from her car.

In fact, she had just picked that fish tank up off of Craigslist the day before. She had it sitting in the living room floor, because that's where she was inspecting it to determine if any repairs were necessary before putting it into commission. Because she had purchased the tank used, she knew it would need a good cleaning first as well.

The prior night, opting to inspect the tank first, the tenant never had time to get to the cleaning step. So, when the landlord entered the property the following day, he saw a dirty fish tank sitting in the living room floor--and he noticed a faint fish odor.

Incorrectly deducing that the tenant must have intended to throw away the apparently damaged, dirty fish tank, the landlord decided to do the tenant a favor and "throw it away" for her--which he did, by hauling it to his truck and dropping it off at the county dump, including not only the tank itself but also all of the tank's accessories.

When the tenant asked the landlord about the fish tank, he readily admitted to having thrown it away. But when the tenant asked the landlord to compensate her for the fish tank he had wrongfully taken, the landlord refused.

The tenant went back and forth about this for a few weeks. But the landlord would not budge (his "explanation" was basically that, the tenant had created an unsanitary condition in the landlord's rental property by bringing in a dirty fish tank, and that the lease entitled the landlord to take corrective action upon his discovery of the supposedly unsanitary condition). 🐠

Having obtained no redress from the landlord amicably, the tenant decided to sue the landlord for conversion...