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Rental non-return is a Virginia theft offense, says Fairfax criminal lawyer

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Rental non-return in Virginia- Photo of forklift

Rental non-return is a Virginia theft offense, says Fairfax criminal lawyer

Rental non-return risks a Virginia theft prosecution. As a Fairfax criminal lawyer, I know that wrongful late return or non-return of rented property for over thirty days is a theft offense. Specifically: “Whenever any person is in possession or control of any personal property, by virtue of or subject to a written lease of such property… and such person so in possession or control shall, with intent to defraud, sell, secrete, or destroy the property, or dispose of the property for his own use, or fraudulently remove the same from the Commonwealth without the written consent of the lessor thereof, or fail to return such property to the lessor thereof within 30 days after expiration of the lease or rental period for such property stated in such written lease, he shall be deemed guilty of the larceny thereof.” Virginia Code § 18.2-118(A).

What do I do if a leasing company sends me a demand to return rental property?

If you receive a demand letter to return rented property, it is essential to act on that demand right away. Such demand letters can strengthen a theft prosecution for non-return of rented property, under the statutory provision stating: “The fact that such person signs the lease or rental agreement with a name other than his own, or fails to return such property to the lessor thereof within 30 days after the giving of written notice to such person that the lease or rental period for such property has expired, shall be prima facie evidence of intent to defraud. For purposes of this section, notice mailed by certified mail and addressed to such person at the address of the lessee stated in the lease, shall be sufficient giving of written notice under this section.” Va. Code § 18.2-118(B).

Will a Virginia property renter be convicted for theft by providing incomplete personal information and ignoring demands to return the property?

James Daniel Sarka is a classic example of an easy Virginia theft prosecution target for not returning rented property. Sarka rented a material lift valued at $3500 from an equipment renting company. Apparently trying to make it hard to track him down for any non-return of the lift, Sarka provided an incorrect name on the lease agreement (transposing his middle and last name, and in one place point omitting his last name entirely), and provided a phone number that was out of service by the time the renting company made efforts to recover the property. The rental company sent a statutory-compliant certified mail demand for the property’s return, with no effect. Sarka did not return the property for nearly a year, when it was finally returned by someone else. He paid only $55 to the renting company, when the equipment lease agreement confirmed that the daily lease rate was $100. Under the foregoing circumstances, the Virginia Court of Appeals easily affirmed his theft conviction for non-return of leased property. Sarka v. Virginia, ___ Va. App. ___ (Feb. 23, 2021).

How can I protect myself against a Virginia theft prosecution and conviction for allegedly not returning rental property?

Renting or leasing a car or other personal property calls for meticulously tracking when you need to return that property, and obtaining sufficient documentation to prove that you timely returned it. Absent-minded and disorganized activity expose you to being charged with untimely return of rental property. Corporations want their assets and income protected, and give limited leeway to provide people who interfere with that. Do not let yourself suffer from such a prosecution.

What do I do if charged with theft or another crime in Virginia?

Virginia criminal law is humorless about actual and suspected criminal activity. It is best to avoid being prosecuted in the first place, if you do get prosecuted for a crime. If you do get prosecuted, it is ideal to start early to identify and hire the right lawyer for you. See my guide for finding the right Virginia criminal defense lawyer for you.

Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan Katz has successfully defended hundreds of theft defendants, and hundreds more charged with Virginia DUI, felony and misdemeanor offenses. Find out the opportunities for your criminal defense by calling 703-383-1100 for a free in-person consultation with Jon Katz about your court-pending case.