Bob locked his bike. Two hours after he found another bike locked to his. Is he allowed to cut through the lock that doesn't belong to him on his own?

I am mostly interested in the following locations:

  • California, United States
  • Massachusetts, United States
  • Paris, France
  • Seoul, South Korea

2 Answers 2


This is a fun one. I don't have any particular domain knowledge about this question. So this one is just a guess.

My answer is strictly from a practical standpoint. If I were faced with this situation in real life, what would I do? (Technical point: I feel the vagueness of the language, "Is he allowed to" allows me to answer this way.)

My assumptions:

My assumptions are that:

  1. The cost of consulting an attorney on the matter or filing a law suit would likely exceed the combined total cost of the bike and the lock.
  2. Usually, the law follows what "feels right" and what makes common sense to the average person. Usually. Not always. But usually. (Legal principles: "Equity follows the law." and "Equity does not aid a party at fault." See this reference.)

What I would do:

So, I would do the following... (if I were in the U.S.)

I would simply cut the bike lock and repossess my bike (unilaterally) if and only if all the following conditions were true in the situation:

  1. I could confirm without any doubt that the bike in question is actually my bike and not just another one that looks just like it.
  2. I could not find anyone around who looks like they might be the owner of the lock or the other bike. If I could find the owner of either the lock or the bike it is highly likely there was some mistake and the situation could be resolved directly with them.
  3. There are no law officers nearby. If so, I would engage them in helping me rectify the matter. If they said it was a "civil matter" and refused to get involved, I would proceed to the next item on this list.
  4. I had the tools handy and available to cut or break the lock.

If any of the above conditions were false, I would flag down the nearest law officer or call one to the scene to help resolve the issue. Any other approach would seem impractical to me on the basis of my above assumption numbered 1.

If I were anywhere outside the U.S., I would involve the local authorities without considering the unilateral repossession option.


Yes, of course he can; he would probably need tools like bolt cutters or a hack saw unless he were very strong or the lock was very weak.

Perhaps you meant to ask if Bob is committing a crime or a tort by doing so?

For common law jurisdictions:

Yes, of course he is; the tort is known as Wilful Damage and the crime usually has a similar name.

The person who put the chain on is committing the tort of Conversion but probably falls short of the crime of Theft as there is no intention to permanently deprive Bob of his bike.

Bob's legal options are:

  1. Wait for or seek out the owner of the chain and ask them to remove it,
  2. remove the lock without damaging it and reinstate the protection to the other bike, a locksmith may be needed; he could then sue to recover his costs,
  3. Sue for a court order for the return of his bike,
  4. involve the police who probably have the legal authority to damage the lock in removing it

Just because someone has wronged you does not give you the right to wrong them.

For non- common law (France, Korea) I have no idea.

  • 2
    In which jurisdictions does this apply? In particular, does it apply in France or in Korea?
    – cpast
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 22:46
  • 1
    Would not apply in France; civil law systems employ different concepts and terminology than do common law systems, even where they reason along similar lines and arrive at the same result. No clue about the Korean system.
    – daffy
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 14:00
  • 1
    It seems unlikely a judge wouldn't say to the other person "you shouldn't have locked your bike to Bob's, its your own fault your lock was destroyed."
    – Andy
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 22:31
  • 1
    @Andy It is even less likely that a matter over a $30 bike chain would come before a judge. However, replace "bike" with "ship" and you now have a court case; the legal principles are the same.
    – Dale M
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 0:27
  • 2
    @Andy If you read my answer, I specifically state that the person doing the chaining has committed the tort of Conversion. If a person has wronged you the you can take action under the law; you are not permitted to break the law yourself.
    – Dale M
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 1:44

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