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Do I become the owner of a device someone lets me borrow if I can't return it? Say someone lets me borrow their iPad since I need an Apple platform for a project. They say I don't need to return it soon since it's an older one they don't really use anymore. Months later, I try contacting the person more than one time on Facebook Messenger, letting them know I'll be at a place to return the device if they want it back, but they ignore the messages by leaving me on read (i.e., they view the messages without replying).

In examples such as the above where you borrow a device and contact someone so you can return it, but such attempts are clearly ignored by the owner, are you legally permitted to consider the device yours, now? If not, would you be guilty of larceny if you assumed ownership, or would you only be guilty if the original owner wanted it back, but you refused?

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De facto it's yours, but de jure it still belongs to the owner. You might have some luck with abandonment, but unless we're talking about something like a car, it's unlikely to matter. And abandonment will likely just allow you to have it towed away, not to have it re-titled in your name. Your jurisdiction will matter, and if the value is enough to warrant it, a lawyer would probably help.

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  • Thanks for the reply! If an item is lost and you try to return it but can't locate the owner, the item becomes yours after a certain period of time. How is it different if an item is borrowed and you try to return it but can't get a reply from the owner (who doesn't seem interested in the device)? Would I be guilty of larceny if I use it as my own, or would the issue mainly be civil in nature, being between me and the original owner? If the latter, I assume this is why it's de facto mine, as the original owner doesn't seem to care even though he has the legal right to have it back if he'd ask.
    – The Editor
    Nov 24 '21 at 21:07
  • I would add that contacting someone via facebook messenger probably isn't enough in court (maybe the person doesn't ever open Messenger). But since it's borrowed it would be civil, not criminal.
    – Tiger Guy
    Nov 25 '21 at 17:51
  • I see. So it's practically mine, just not officially mine. I'm not committing any crimes by keeping it, but if he'd ever want it back (which almost certainly wouldn't happen), chances are I'd have to return it to him.
    – The Editor
    Nov 25 '21 at 19:44
  • To clarify, the significance of Facebook Messenger is that it tells you if someone read your messages. In this case, I can prove he read them but did not reply. Would this mean that although he'd technically have the right to have it back, it's practically (though not officially) mine since he doesn't want it back? Can you only be guilty of a civil violation if the person your conduct would be against cares enough to do something about it? In other words, so long as he'd never want it back, can I use the iPad without breaking any laws relating to ownership?
    – The Editor
    Nov 29 '21 at 14:10
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"become yours" - Which court are you in? The court of the schoolyard? If you're in real court, then

You would need to sue, to quiet title

When a bona-fide dispute as to ownership exists, a case can be brought before a judge to resolve ownership definitively.

The axiom of a quiet title action is that you must notify all parties who could possibly have an interest. Really, notification is 7/8 of it, because by the time you arrive at a "quiet title" action, most likely they either lost interest or are gone.

And the crux of "Notify" is that your efforts to notify the party are to the standards of the court. You are a hostile party, noting your interests are in conflict with theirs. (we must fairly assume they want their iPad back; you want to take the iPad). Thus, it is obvious you will prefer to fail in your efforts at contact, and you will do a bad job of it, possibly on purpose.

Since parties in a lawsuit are responsible to serve all documents on each other, courts have very high standards for that. And these standards are tested and gamed all the time. I even had a clever plaintiff do it to me! (we were expecting both the appeal and the dis-service).

The crux of document service is you hire a licensed, third-party independent process server. A process server is naturally good at skip-tracing (think "Dog: the Process Server") and is accustomed to finding people who are actively hiding. (because some people think they can avoid consequences by evading service. That's a loser's game generally.)

So, when you show up in court and they aren't there, the judge will ask "did you serve them?" And then you say "yes", name the company, and if needed call the process server to the stand, and the server reads out of their notebook all the things they did to search for the counterparty.

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