8 votes

An ethical question: If someone borrows something from you...

but does not return it. Has that something been stolen from you by that person? Is, therefore, the person a thief? Does it come down to the intent of the person?

I have always believed it was a form of theft but most people I have expressed that view to, have told me that I am wrong, for varied reasons.(the person could have forgot to return, gave it to someone else, didn't mean to,lost it, broke it, can't replace,could return sometime in future,owe them something,etc. etc.)

What is your opinion?

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I try to always be the giver

When I loan something, I don't expect it back; If they return it, they are "giving" it to me and that's good karma on them.

I have one rule in regards to money, if I loan it, you can't borrow more until you pay the first loan back.

Also, if you annoy them long enough about something they tend to pay you back, or return the item, just to get you to shut up about it. :)

Garan's picture

If they don't give it back, then they are..

..not going to borrow anything from me again.

Ultimately, no person can guarantee very much.
They do not control their situation.
They could be the victims of theft, fire, or children. :)

Regardless of intent, what is the difference between someone who steals, and someone who accidentally destroys?
From a practical standpoint, there is no difference.

Do not loan-out, what can not be replaced.
I usually say, "It's not a matter of trust. It's a matter of accountability." ..sometimes adding, "You might be blamed."

If someone borrows something with the intention of keeping it

If someone borrows something with the intention of keeping it, it is probably theft.

The elements of theft are as follows:
The property was taken without consent
The property was carried away from where the owner had it
The property does not belong to the thief
The thief INTENDS never to give it back

Because you lent the property it was taken WITH consent but that consent was fraudulently granted if the person borrowing it never intended to return it.

It all depends on the facts and circumstances and intent of the "borrower".

Borrowing, it seems to me, can become stealing if the return does not happen.

I would think that if the return is delayed and intent to steal can't be proven, there may be damages owed even if the item is ultimately returned based on unlawful gain of having the property for the period during which it was borrowed or the loss the lender incurs for not having the item.

If it's a real case always best to consult a lawyer.

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I don't see it as theft.

More like a breach of agreement/contract.
A repossession would be the result.

Like you stated, the item was willfully given.
There was an agreement.
Kinda like leasing a car and not returning it.
Not a theft, but a breach. There will be a repossession!

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In regards to theft

In law there is an easy way to find out the intent of an opposing party. The legal instrument used is called a Notice and Demand. In the case of someone borrowed something from you and never returned it, to establish intent you would send the person a Notice and Demand notifying them that they are still in possession of something that belongs to you and you demand that they return it to you. If they dishonor the presentment then they clearly have the intent to not give you your property back.

Honor vs Dishonor in a legal instrument. To honor means a you acknowledge the notice and agree to the demand, or acknowledge the notice and disagree with the demand. Example I know I have your item I forgot to give it back, or I know I have that item but it belongs to me now because we traded this for that, or I know I have your item but I'm not done with it may I use it a little while longer?

To dishonor a presentment you do not acknowledge the notice AND do not comply with the demand. Lets say you send a person a Notice and Demand for an item they borrowed and you get no response but they bring the item to your house the next day. They have not dishonored the presentment because they have complied with your demands and there is no further dispute.

If someone has borrowed an item and dishonors the presentment of a Notice and Demand then they clearly have the intent to keep the item and at that point is considered to have stolen the item. This kind of stuff was taught to even children that did not attend schools prior and after the revolutionary years. This is simple customs and usage that our society has been devoid of, just another notch in the belt for a duty required by Congress yet has failed us miserably.

Fool me once

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me!

Depends on the terms of the

Depends on the terms of the contract.

"The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that." — Alan Greenspan

In my life experiences

knowing the person and their level of self honor tells me what to expect.

I have no problem with refusing to loan out when there is no self honor or respect in the person.


Lending anything to a friend

Lending anything to a friend is a good way to determine who your real friends are.

I personally don't like to borrow anything but when I have, I treat their property as my own. On one occasion, I borrowed a power washer and despite setting it up properly (I have owned power washers in past), I could hear the motor die as I turned it on. It was obviously ready to go...but it happened under my watch. I replaced it without question for my friend. He even said not to worry about it...but I felt responsible. That was the last time I borrowed anything from anyone.

That same friend borrows my tools all the time...I always get everything back.

"Villains wear many masks, but none as dangerous as the mask of virtue." - Washington Irvin

Was it precious to you?

My family always taught it's children, 'If you cannot afford to give it away, DONT lend it out.' When you make a loan to a friend, the friendship should be stronger than the 'thing'... even if its money. So, if you gave it away (lent it out), its gone... bye bye. If it comes back, oh goody. If it does not, what have you lost? You know more about the person you lent it to now. Wisdom costs sometimes, but DONT ever fret the lose. PERIOD And it is never theft, never.

Don't expect to get it back.

Don't expect to get it back. At the end of the day it's just stuff.

But about myself I will not boast, except as it concerns my weaknesses (2 Cor 12:5). Let the unbelievers seek praise from each other; I wish that which is from God alone.

Most folks don't respect

Most folks don't respect other folks property and will treat it like it ain't theirs. Cynical maybe, experienced yes. I'd rather take a beating than borrow anything.

People forget they have the right

to say, "I can't do that." If someone asked to borrow my car I can't do that, it involves too much liability. I can, on the other hand, say I can take you where you want to go.

If someone needs to borrow money, let's assume they need $500.00. I can say, "I don't have $500, but I can give you $200.00. Notice that this isn't a loan, it's a gift, I can afford to give friends or family $200( I won't miss it).

I've seen families and friendships destroyed by loans made with the anticipation they be paid and are not. Preserving the relationship means more to me so I give what I can.

My philosophy is that I give what I can because I want to give, I don't want to lose family members or friends.

They are borrowing it until they say "no"

When you ask for it back. In fact, if you loan somebody your car for example and they don't return it, it's not considered stolen and you are responsible for getting it back because you willingly gave it to the "thief".

2 Choices

If you've ask for the item back at least 3 times
And if they refuse to return it each time
To me..they stole it.
You can either forget about it and just never deal with them again..because you cant trust them
Or you can take them to court and sue for the cost to replace the item.

I believe in Hope & Change..I Hope the government will Change
Spindale-Rutherford County-North Carolina

Hate to say it

But you may have thought too highly of who you loaned to.

I believe you are correct, you were personally stolen from.

But unfortunately, you were the nice guy. Nice guys do finish last 90% of the time. That 10% feels so damn good though when it works out.

No, it's not really theft in

No, it's not really theft in my view. If you remind them to return it, and they flat out tell you no, then I would view it differently.

I agree...

Effective communication can maintain accountability in most instances.

If they're a thief, that's the best way to find out, and if so, dissociate.

Kowning is better than ignorance

If you loan something and the borrower knows that you WILL consider it theft if the borrower does not return the item, then who else is needed to determine the fact in that case?


Circumstantial, as is everything

If the loanee gave it away, broke it, lost it, they are still responsible for it's return, or a suitable compensation, or it is theft, perhaps forgivable.

If it is just forgotten, a reminder should be more than enough to prevent the 'theft'. If the loaner forgot too? That can't really be theft can it?

If someone refuses to return something I loaned them, or refuses to compensate me with it's like, or try to make some arrangement, I would believe that to be theft. I believe it does come down to intent.

Depending on the item, or costs involved, I don't know that I would call the cops for it, but the friendship would probably be in jeopardy.

Personally, I don't make loans to people I don't consider friends, I don't call the cops, period, and I usually consider any loan to friends as a gift, that may or may not be gifted back. ;)

Just open the box and see


It's a voluntary and verbal contract.

Unlike a written contract there isn't a signature of agreement to:

Have some entity (like government by law) enforce the contract should it not be done as specified (return what was borrowed within specified time)

Have specifics written and signed by both parties voluntarily.

Since neither of you did that you went into a contract verbally so you'd have to sort it out yourselves or civically in a court of law. Then it's your word. This is WHY man invented contracts.

If anything - you entered into a shotty deal and the loss is yours to deal with.

wolfe's picture

Verbal contracts are criminally enforceable.

(When involving theft/fraud)

See my exwife example below. Her behavior caused me to end up over $1000 in various bounced check charges. I explained the situation to the bank, and was very clear that I had given verbal permission for the $200. The bank said, she was the one who committed fraud, cleared my account problems and pressed charges against her. She was subsequently convicted.

And in fact, the person dealing with it at the bank is the VERY person who gave me that car analogy.

If I had had a choice, I would not have wanted her to get in that much trouble over it, but what she did hurt me quite a bit at the time, and that became the banks decision.

The Philosophy Of Liberty -

Yes however by law you have

Yes however by law you have to defend your reason why you want to take the person to court without a contract.

Because it is your word against theirs if you are suing and lose then you are legally responsible for trying to take someone innocent to court.

wolfe's picture

It is theft.

Permission is revokable.

You can only use proportional force to re-obtain what is rightfully yours.


I loan a buddy a car for a day. I call him up a day later and say, "hey man, I need my car back". He says, "I thought about it and I think I am going to keep it for another week."

You now have the right to reclaim your property with equal force.

This is both how our legal system functions as well as the NAP.

I experienced something similar where I had given permission to my exwife to fill out a blank check for $200. She decided to do it for $400. She was found guilty and sentenced/fined, etc. Permission to do one thing, does not equate to permission to do anything.

Edit: Motive is irrelevant. However, proportionality would mean that the person should be given a warning/request if the transaction had begun as a friendly one.

The Philosophy Of Liberty -

Dont let anyone borrow

Dont let anyone borrow anything from you unless you are prepared to lose it or go to court to get it back.
On the same topic, never lend friends and family money, always consider it a gift. If more people did this, there would be alot less drama in the world.

To climb the mountain, you must believe you can.