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What's involved in pressing charges for theft? What happens to the person charged as soon as the charge is filed, and afterward?

Vancouver, WA |

Who decides if the case warrants prosecution? Who prosecutes -- one's own attorney, or the state?

It happens to be the landlord taking our property off our leased lot. We have pictures of the parties committing the theft (landlord, neighbor, hired help). We need to decide what to do and don't want to decide in a vacuum.

The property is a hedge of well-maintained shrubs we had permission from the previous landlord to plant. The current owner/landlord would not complete mediation about the situation, and would not wait for due process to determine if she had the right to remove the property. The neighbor didn't like them, so the landlord removed them. Sounds crazy, but this is true. In voluntary mediation thru AG's office, mediator found for us, but landlord walked out.

Our leased lot is in manufactured-home park. RCW 59.20.100 - "Improvements, except a natural lawn, purchased & installed by a tenant on a mobile home lot shall remain the property of the tenant even though affixed to or in the ground ... “ We find no violation of law or park rules in planting hedge. Does permission of former owner landlord to plant hedge constitute a contract? If so, seems present landlord broke the contract, removing hedge without due process or negotiating, & over our written objections to each letter telling us she would be removing the hedge. Local nursery says replacement cost is $4,000.00. If the prosecutor does not prosecute, can we be liable for something like a frivolous report to the police? We agreed in every detail to the AG's mediator proposed resolution, though it would cost us more monthly rent. The landlord walked out; the resolution would not give her legal control of the area on our leased lot where the hedge was, so she would not be justified in removing it.

Attorney Answers 1


  1. Things planted in the ground or otherwise permanently attached to the real property are usually properties of the landlord, even if planted by the tenant.

    RCW 9A.56.020 (Theft — Definition, defense) provides:

    (1) "Theft" means:
    (a) To wrongfully obtain or exert unauthorized control over the property or services of another or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services;
    ****

    So, theft likely is not a probable charge against a landlord who removes plants in the ground from the landlord's land.

    Whether there are violations of law or contract between landlord and tenant depend on the specific facts.

    Generally, only the prosecutor has the power to decide whether to prosecute criminal cases.

    You should review your specific facts with your attorney to find out your legal options.

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