If your roommate is stealing your food and you call the police, they normally won’t do anything.
They need proof, and also sharing a place means you have a civil relationship with your roommate, so criminal courts will not hear it.
The police and the courts don’t see it as a serious problem.
From my experience and research, if your roommate is stealing your food, the police won’t do anything.
The reasons are:
The difficulty with your situation is the issue of Proof.
Most roommates share the common areas of their homes—areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms. “To make a clear case of theft, you have to show that the thief intended to deprive you of the stolen object permanently and unlawfully.” Even if your roommate stole food from your bedroom (which is considered a private area), they could claim that they were ‘borrowing’ it and hadn’t had a chance to replace it yet.
For the police to be involved would need criminal law, which requires ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’
2, You have a civil relationship with your roommate
Living with someone means you have a civil relationship. Since your roommate has legal access to the common areas of your home and casual access to your bedroom, stealing your food could be seen as non-criminal. Thus, a civil court will need to hear your case. The punishments for civil cases are only financial (fines) and never jail time. Depending on what your roommate stole, they might not mind paying a fine.
To understand this, let’s explain the difference:
Civil law is about private and civil rights, such as custody disputes, bankruptcy, defamation, breach of contract, and property damage.
These are between two people and not things that are against the state, or that it will get involved with. The court case will be to satisfy the person claiming against the other, rather than to satisfy the state.
Police don’t get involved with these things.
Serious crimes like homicide, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, possession of a controlled substance have more severe punishments, such as going to jail.
The law considers these to be against the state and things it gets involved with. So the police will investigate and act in these circumstances.
Criminal law cases are not about satisfying the person claiming against the other; the government has to be happy as it’s their rules your roommate has broken. As a result, the penalties are more severe.
Your roommate stealing food isn’t big enough to be an offense against the state or federal government.
Only the government can start a criminal court case; members of the public can only apply for a hearing by a civil court.
If the police prosecute a person and using criminal law which puts them in jail, then if the victim would like monetary compensation, they go to civil court to get money from the person who did the deed against them.
3, The crime is not big enough for a court to be interested
The police believe that a roommate stealing your food is not a big enough crime for them to investigate, and a criminal court also won’t be interested in hearing the case. The food is not worth enough money.
If your roommate has taken something worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, they might be interested in the case.
The considerable cost of police time, lawyers going to court and the court itself would be many times greater than the value of the food.
The police need the courts to prosecute, or they would arrest your roommate, and nothing happens after that. If the courts won’t, then there’s no point.
Even if the police did do something, there are reasons why you would not want to go to the police if your roommate is stealing your food.
1, Your roommate will still be sharing your home with you until the court date
If you request a hearing from a civil law court, the police won’t arrest your roommate and put them in jail until the court date.
Even if it was criminal, stealing your food is not something that the police would put your roommate in jail for between when they first start investigating and the court date.
It’s not severe enough of a crime to put your roommate in jail until such a time that a court could decide your roommate is innocent, and they are not a danger to the public.
Innocent until proven guilty!
2, Your roommate may still be living with you after the court date
As it is a civil case, your roommate won’t go to jail. Even if they did, your roommate would not be in there for long as it’s not a serious enough crime.
Then they are back living with you again!
3, You will have to testify against your roommate in court
Courts need the claimant to make a case, and the police can’t do this without you. Do you want to be in court testifying against your roommate, the person you have to live with!
Legal reasons why the police should do something about your roommate stealing your food
To understand the laws about stealing food, we need to look at the idea of theft in general.
Theft is a criminal act. The punishment for stealing can get you a fine of up to $100 and up to 12 months in prison. If the value of the stolen items is more than $500, the criminal act is now a felony. This category has higher fines and more time in jail. So the law can punish roommates who steal food.
So, if you call the police, will they do anything?
In theory, there is no definite answer, but in practice, I have seen that the police won’t do anything, especially as you living together makes it even more complicated.
Other things people who have been in this situation have told me the police said to them are:
- There’s no independent witness
- The police have limited resources and have to prioritize more critical cases
If your roommate is stealing other things as well as food
If your roommate is stealing more than just food, for example higher priced items like electronics, then the police will take it more seriously.
However, you still have the same problems as before, such as being able to prove it and having a civil relationship with your roommate.
In the end, from the people I have spoken to and the research I have done, the police still won’t do anything.
You could take your roommate to court yourself
If the police will not take your roommate to court, you could do it yourself.
You can only make a claim with a civil court, which means you can get financial compensation for the food. A civil court cannot put your roommate in prison.
Here are the full impartial facts if you want to do it.
How to take your roommate to a civil court
These are the stages:
1. Find your local district court and fill in an application form.
2. The court will serve your roommate with the papers, or you have to pay the court to do it.
3. Give your roommate a copy of your proof that they stole your food, and you give the court a copy of it with your application. The court will also want evidence that you provided the proof to your roommate.
4. Compile all the evidence you can, even if you are not sure it’s relevant, still take it to court. Unless of course, it will hurt your side of the case. You need to bring copies to court for the judge and your roommate.
5. Turn up to court on the date the court sets for the trial.
Things to consider if you take your roommate to court as the police won’t
Time and effort
It takes ages to fill in the form and go to court.
It may all seem quick and easy, but by the time you have worked out what proof you need, done all the copies of it and all the other things that come up and go wrong, it takes ages!
There is also the mental effort you need to spend at every stage to think about how you’re going to do it and fight your case.
You may need to take time off work to go to court.
Your roommate will hate you
If you successfully claim against them, it will damage their credit rating. This will make it hard for your roommate to rent another place, get credit, even some kinds of jobs.
If they are the kind of roommate that steals food, maybe even does other nasty stuff as well, taking them to court may not be a good idea. You are living in the same place, so you are an easy target for them to do things to you in your own home.
Your roommate may not pay the compensation
Just because the court rules your roommate should pay, it does not mean they will. You may have to pay for court bailiffs and other things to get your roommate to pay.
Solutions the court can do for you include:
Bank levy: where they take the money from your roommate’s bank account
Installments: To try and make the payments affordable
Wage garnishment: The court takes it directly from your roommate’s salary
Using a debt collection agency: They will take a percentage of the money for their services.
Each state is slightly different.
Should you take your roommate to court for stealing your food, if the police won’t?
Personally from what I have seen, when you compare the cost and time going to court with the value of the food, going to court for your roommate stealing your food as the police won’t is more hassle than it’s worth.
Also, the social conflict you will have are not sustainable unless your roommate is a very reasonable and law-abiding person.
I have gone to court for some things and so have friends of mine, such as when someone did not pay them for a job they had done. It takes loads of time, always more than expected. If the person you are taking to court is not the type of person who respects the law, it’s even more difficult because they play around and cause even more problems.
People tend only to realize and believe how much time and effort it takes to take someone to court after they have done it themselves.
If you need compensation for a massive thing which is worth thousands of dollars, it may be worth it, but not for anything less.
Should you bluff that you’re going to call the police or take your roommate to a civil court for stealing your food?
If your roommate is a hardened criminal, they will know what the police will and will not do.
Your roommate will know that if you call the police as they are stealing your food, the police won’t do anything.
If your roommate is more innocent, naive, and unlikely to look up on Google what will happen, then this may work. However, if the bluff does not work, then your roommate will not believe you in the future, and your life sharing a place with them will be harder.
Personally, I would not bluff that I am going to call the police if my roommate is stealing my food unless they are a very naive pushover.
If you bluff that you are going to court, they don’t believe you and keep stealing your food. The next step is to fill in the forms, compile the evidence, and show them that everything is ready for you to submit your claim form to the court.
If this does not stop your roommate from stealing your food, then you have to follow through, or your roommate will not believe your threats again.
What to do
Lots of people would like to call the police when their roommate is stealing their food because they don’t want to deal with it themselves and would like the police to do it for them.
This is because they don’t want social friction with their roommate and could even be being bullied by them. The police do not see this as severe enough for their services, as you should be able to resolve these issues yourself with your roommate or even move place if needed.
The police see themselves as being for things you cannot deal with yourself, such as if you are threatened with violence, or have an intruder into your home.
Things you can do yourself
If you can’t resolve this issue with your roommate, the best things to do are practical solutions, so your roommate doesn’t or can’t steal your food. Such as having a lockable refrigerator in your room, and the many other solutions in this article.
I carefully researched and got advice from roommates who have had this problem and solved it.
1, Quora. Can you call the police on someone in your house stealing things from you?
2, Officer.com. Theft by roommate
3, Britannica.com. What Is the Difference Between Criminal Law and Civil Law?
4, Quora. If a roommate is taking my food, is it silly to threaten to call the cops?