Trespass, Conversion and Nuisance: Definition and Examples

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  • 0:10 Tresspass to Land and Chattel
  • 2:00 Conversion
  • 3:46 Nuisance and Private Nuisance
  • 4:40 Public Nuisance
  • 6:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

Trespass, conversion and nuisance refer to three intentional torts that deal with the taking of, use or interference of one's rights to hold and keep one's property or things. These are purposeful acts and considered tortious behavior.

Trespass to Land and Chattel

Imagine the horror of returning home from a hard day's work only to find a stranger sitting on your comfy patio chair, reading your favorite magazine while sipping on a freshly made glass of lemonade. When you ask this person to leave, they refuse!

Hopefully, this will never happen to you. But if it does, know that this action, in the eyes of the law, is an intentional tort of trespass to land and involves three important elements:

  • The person entered your property without permission
  • The person has no legal right to be there
  • The person refuses to vacate

In order to prove this, one must demonstrate that there was intent, or purposeful action, to enter and remain on the premises. In our example, it wouldn't be difficult to show that the lemonade-swigging stranger intended to be in your backyard because it is your backyard, not theirs. You did not invite the person nor did you request that the person remain in your chair.

Now, to put a twist on it, what if this person unwittingly walked into your yard, sat down, picked up a magazine and relaxed, thinking all along it was their friend's home? Well, if the stranger looked as shocked as you did when you both discovered each other's presence, immediately apologized and ran off of your property - it was probably not trespass. You see, trespass requires that a person be in possession of the land. When a person takes intentional possession of one's personal property, it is called trespass to chattel.

Going back to our example, trespass to chattel means that a person intended to possess and use personal property, not real estate, like your magazine and your lemonade. So, if the person ran off and took your stuff, this may qualify as intentional trespass to chattel.


Conversion is different. It requires intentional interference and damage. All set out for an afternoon of boating, you drive to the marina, only to find that your boat is missing. The police did a bit of investigating and turns out that your boat was stolen and had considerable damage to the hull.

What actually happened was conversion. This means illegal possession or use of another's property, passing it off as his own property, whether intentional or otherwise. In other words, it is a fancy word for stealing.

Check it out! The definition states that the possession or use can be either intentional or unintentional. Simply put, it doesn't much matter whether the person who stole your boat meant to outright steal it or he thought it was just his own boat. Simply taking it is enough to prove conversion. And, this person would have to pay for the damages or loss of the boat based on its value.

Conversion can be tricky. Suppose you found a great deal on a used cell phone from one of those free online classified advertisement websites. It's the perfect phone at the right price. After much negotiation, you settle on a price and a place to make the purchase.

About a month later, the police come knocking at your door and demand the phone, and suddenly, you are cuffed and taken downtown for questioning. 'What just happened?' you ask.

Here's what may have happened. If the phone you legitimately purchased was previously stolen and sold to you by the culprit, you were in possession of stolen property. Even though you did not steal the phone, you are, in fact, in possession of it, and that is conversion.

Nuisance: Private and Public

Nuisance is another instance of interference with another person's enjoyment of land, and it involves both public and private intrusion. Different than trespass, nuisance does not require that a person actually intrude on another's property. Simply interference with another's enjoyment of space is enough to prove nuisance.

And, there are two ways in which this can happen:

  • Private nuisance
  • Public nuisance

In a private nuisance, one would have to interfere with another person's enjoyment of private property, like making loud noises. So, your new neighbors consider themselves gourmands. They love to cook. But, whenever they cook, it leaves a pungent, downright stinky aroma that lingers throughout the hallway! The stench of their soufflé seeps into your apartment. These careless chefs may be liable for nuisance.

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