Yesterday, my stepdad accused me and my brother of stealing his batons and a few other things. My brother and I had no awareness to the fact that any of these items were missing. When we denied stealing the batons, he became angry with us as he had not gotten the answer he wanted. We both defended ourselves and each other as we knew we were both innocent.

My stepdad has now threatened to take things from our rooms when we are at our dad’s or at school. And he has already told our mom he was going to, and he has set his mind to it. I am afraid because he is acting immature and childish. What laws/ rights can I use against him to keep him out of my room?

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    For anything less than physical or mental abuse, you're probably out of luck getting any official third party to intercede in family matters like this. "As long as you live in my home, you live by my rules."
    – Barmar
    Commented May 1 at 14:50
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    Move all the important stuffs to your Dad's house! Commented May 1 at 15:40
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    I'd highly suggest talking to your mom, and then anyone else you can in your bio mom or bio dad's family about this situation. There are a lot of stories about nightmare step parents on reddit relationship channels. Another intervening relative is about the only way I've ever seen them end well for the kid. (Note that if your Step Dad is getting Child Support for housing you, then you may actually have some leverage if you start insisting on living somewhere else. As soon as you move out, inform the person paying the support).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 2 at 0:54
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    Also, if this were one of those stories, I'd give it about a 95% chance the stuff was actually stolen by one of Stepdad's bio kids. The fact that he'd jump to this conclusion with 0 evidence means the real culprit can act with impunity, and they probably knew that. Even if he finds the stuff in their room, he'll believe you planted it there.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 2 at 1:03

3 Answers 3


What laws/ rights can I use against him to keep him out my room?

Who owns the house (or rents it if it is being rented from a third party)?

If your stepdad does, you can't keep him out of your room.

Unless you own the house (or rent it from a third-party), you don't have the right to exclude anyone from your room unless the owner (or tenant on the lease) gives you permission to do so.

As a practical matter, if your stepdad and mom live in the house as husband and wife, you will not prevail in any effect to take legal action, either through a trespass lawsuit or a criminal trespass complaint, merely because he goes into your room. He will be found to have implied permission from the owner (or tenant on the lease), if your mom is the owner (or tenant on the lease), to do so.

Can my step dad steal from my room when I’m gone?

Legally, that isn't permitted. As a practical matter, however, there is no feasible way to enforce those laws in the fact pattern presented by the question.

There are both civil remedies in the form of lawsuits that can be used to recover possession of specific items of personal property or its worth, and criminal penalties for theft.

But, as a practical matter, it is exceedingly unlikely that a lawsuit would provide a cost effective solution, or that the police would intervene in a case like this one.

A lawsuit is a several thousand dollar solution to a several hundred dollar (or less) problem. Also, minors generally need to have some sort of adult guardian or "next friend" to be able to bring a lawsuit. Obtaining this representation would add thousands of dollars of additional cost to the litigation.

The police are overwhelmingly likely to call any such dispute a "family matter" or a "civil matter" and to decline to intervene.

If you are seriously concerned that your stepfather will take items of tangible personal property that belong to you while you are absent from the house, your best practical option is to store those items elsewhere.

On the other hand, if, for example, your stepdad took money from your bank account through unauthorized use of an ATM card or a check book or teller withdrawals from an account where he wasn't an authorized signer or ATM card user, police would be very likely to take that seriously. And, the larger the dollar amount of the transaction, the more viable it would be to enforce your rights.

If your stepdad took property worth $100,000, a lawsuit or criminal charges might be a viable option. At $15,000 it is a close call, but might be possible and might have strategic value to you beyond the net economic recovery you might secure. At $500 of tangible personal property, your formal legal rights are all but irrelevant, and possession in nine-tenths of the law.

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    At $500, you could go to small claims, but with this fact pattern, I tend to think it would be a waste of time. Of course, there's always the option of convincing one of the Judge Judy imitators to arbitrate for you - they like messy family dramas, and supposedly the usual structure of those shows is to pay a rather large "appearance fee" to everyone and then take the judgment out of that, so it could even be a financial win-win, bizarre as that may sound. There is the small matter of your personal dignity, of course.
    – Kevin
    Commented May 1 at 7:14
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    Based on the number of people who are willing to appear on those shows, @Kevin, "personal dignity" isn't really an issue... :(
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 1 at 14:24
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    Depending on the exact situation and location, a child can be deemed to be a "tenant" under the law, and the privacy of their bedroom protected by said law.
    – Yakk
    Commented May 1 at 16:15
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    @FreeMan I personally wonder how real the conflicts are. that appear on those shows... Its reality television afterall.
    – Questor
    Commented May 1 at 18:20
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    If the mom pays the step dad rent the right of the stepdad to enter the room may not be as clear-cut as you present it. See my answer. Commented May 2 at 10:12

The answer provided by ohwilleke is excellent from a legal perspective.

Mostly, this could be anger talking. This man is rightfully angry that his property is missing. You could defuse the situation by simply helping to look for the missing items. Until he actually carries out that threat, no wrongdoing has occurred. It is a separate issue if he actually takes items.

How old are you? If you are a minor, you may have other recourses depending on what is/was "stolen".

First if the relationship has deteriorated to such a point is living with your dad a viable option? Most courts will allow children as young as 13 to make decisions about their living arrangements. No family court will look favorably upon a stepdad taking random objects from a girl's room. Going to court is expensive, and your dad may be willing to pay for this to protect his daughter and reverse the child support payments.

On the other hand a family court would be fine with a stepdad removing certain items from a child's room such as a switch blade knife, a lighter, or inappropriate clothing.

Second, until things change, take items of value with you to your dad's home. Cash and jewelry should be hidden and taken with you.

Third, this might be an issue for child protective services. If your stepdad takes things from your home that are reasonable and necessary to live it could be a form of abuse. Examples might include appropriate clothing, underwear, toothbrush, shoes etc...

Your best bet is to try and defuse this and similar situations. As mentioned before, you could help look for the items, I mean really make an effort. Since this man will likely be in your life for years to come it is wise to build a good relationship with him.

  • Where does the OP say they're a girl? And I doubt he's threatening to take things they need to live, just things they like, like a book, poster or favorite article of clothing (since he's punishing them for taking something he likes).
    – Barmar
    Commented May 2 at 14:24
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    @Barmar OP might not be a girl, but the user name suggests more likely a girl than a boy. Commented May 2 at 17:41
  • @suchiuomizu I didn't notice that....
    – Barmar
    Commented May 2 at 18:54

First and foremost, as uhoh said: This is not primarily a legal affair. Your situation is complicated and conflicts with step parents are not rare. You really may want to ask a question over at Interpersonal Skills. (As an aside, since you are probably a teenager — who, if my own history is any indicator, are often preoccupied with themselves —, here is a gentle reminder that the situation is probably not easy for your mom or your step dad either.)

The underlying conflict is not a legal one and must be resolved non-legally, perhaps with some outside help.

That said, this is Law Stackexchange; even if no legal action is desired or possible, some legal arguments may support a position: After all, the law is the codification of what we perceive as right and wrong — it is gelled morale. In this spirit, I'll give you a few arguments.

  • Your step dad has no particular authority over you (as opposed to your biological parents, who do!), unless he has obtained guardianship or adopted you. Essentially, his legal relationship towards you is that of a stranger on the street. Of course, your mom is in a position to ask him to watch you temporarily (like she could ask anybody); but, for example, he cannot demand to see your school or medical records etc., and cannot make any important decisions for you.

  • Stealing is always illegal. But note that taking things away from kids temporarily, as an educational measure, is not stealing. It also requires that the things taken away were indeed your property and not, say, hand-me-downs that were meant to be passed on later.

  • The status of your room is not as clear-cut as ohwilleke made it sound. Even if your step dad owns the house, he may not have unrestricted rights to enter your room, namely if he rented it out to your mom. If your mom pays her new partner for living in his house, that may constitute a rental contract. As always in America, the law is a mix of laws at different levels, but at least in some jurisdictions (I would assume: in most of them) a landlord needs permission before entering a tenant's premises. For example, in LA county, they need to ask 24 hours in advance. Now your mom may have, implicitly or explicitly, allowed him to enter; but as I said, this is an argument in your favor: The law recognizes that private dwellings enjoy some protection even if they are not owned.

  • More general arguments include a right to privacy which is codified in documents like the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child which states in Art. 16:

    No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence [...]

    Legally, this is a resolution of the General Assembly of the U.N.; it is a "soft law" because it is non-binding. Nonetheless, it is a legal document which codifies generally agreed-upon principles. I'm presenting this because it puts unwarranted searches of your room in perspective, even if it doesn't make them illegal. This article acknowledges a right to privacy for minors, which is a fairly modern idea, as far as I can tell. The degree of privacy will grow with age; while it is reasonable to put a baby cam in the bedroom of a 4 year old it would be outright creepy with a 16 year old. One could make an argument that the right to privacy increases proportionate to the autonomy of a person. There are things that are — literally and metaphorically — your business. Even your real parents should only interfere with them (e.g., search your room or your phone) when they have reason to assume that you are in danger or breaking the law.

The latter argument is my interpretation; legally, parents are typically allowed to read phones and diaries etc., even though they shouldn't. But in every case, the — existing! — right to privacy should be weighed against the reasons parents perceive having to breach it. In a family discussion which will hopefully happen at some point, you could point to the fact that you, as a teenager (I assume) have a right to privacy, even if it's not really enforceable. As always, there are conflicting interests and conflicting legal or moral rights and privileges. You can bring forward yours and ask that they be considered in a compromise or agreement you as a family unit should try to find.

  • 1
    The tenancy argument seems a bit flimsy to me. Unless the stepdad rented out specific parts of the place, even if the mom pays something, it will be more of a cost sharing arrangement than an actual tenancy.
    – jcaron
    Commented May 2 at 14:10
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    Isn't he married to the Mom? That's what makes him a stepfather, right? Wouldn't that mean that they co-own the home?
    – Barmar
    Commented May 2 at 14:31
  • @Barmar The two don't need to go hand in hand. Often, when people remarry, one of them may own a house already and the other partner moves in. How that is shaped contractually is different (buy-in, rent, simply "live together" with whatever legal repercussions). Commented May 2 at 14:37
  • @jcaron It may or may not be a rental contract; the point I want to make is that property owners do not have unrestricted access to their property under all circumstances, as opposed to ohwillleke's apodictic statement. Especially dwellings enjoy specific protections. Commented May 2 at 14:40

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