What Does “Conversion” Mean? – The Everyday Legal Glossary

What You need to Understand about Conversion

What is conversion and why should you care? If someone has ever stolen your stuff or acted like they owned something that was really yours, you already understand the term. In this guide, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about conversion as it relates to personal injury law in real-world examples.

understanding conversion

When someone takes your property for themselves or acts like something you own belongs to them. The outcome of this action, changing the value, attributes, or usability of the “converted” goods.

The basics of conversion.
Conversion is a legal expression that describes a civil tort (when someone does something wrong, but criminal law is not broken ) where one person “converts” another person’s property for themselves. Basically… stealing. Other ways to think about it? When someone pretends to own something that belongs to someone else. Or, when someone does something to property that changes its value that they don’t have the right to do because it isn’t there’s to change.


Conversion Legal Definition Made Simple: The W’s


WHO cares about conversion?

  • You probably won’t care about the concept of conversion till it applies to you! When someone pretends your stuff belongs to them, or steals your personal belongings, conversion is going to be something you care a heck of a lot about.

WHAT is conversion?

  • Conversion is when someone “converts” your property to their possession. AKA when they steal it from you and pretend that they own it. When conversion happens, it’s more than stealing though; it’s when the person who takes your stuff alters the value and usability of it so that it’s different than when you owned it.
    Confused? Read on.

WHEN does conversion apply?
Here are some examples that explain conversion.

  1. Cutting down a tree.
    You have a large tree in your backyard that you love; Your neighbor hates the tree because its big branches block their view, so they hire a tree cutter who chops the tree down and turns it into lumber and firewood.
  2. Two roommates live together; one, Roommate A, bought (all by themselves) and brought into the apartment a great chair. Roommate B likes the chair and decides to take without telling Roommate A; they stick it in their office at work and pretend it’s theirs.

WHY does conversion happen?

  • Conversion is strictly related to negligent behavior. Normally, when one person has little-to-no regard for someone else’s property. Like, if someone steals your cell phone and then sells it online… Sometimes, however, conversion can be accidental. There can be a genuine misunderstanding about who “rightfully” is owns something. Unfortunately, conversion is truly one of those torts with a whole lotta gray area to it.


Still feeling ambiguous about the idea of conversion? How about this! Our very on Stick Figure Law Players illustrate an example of conversion you are likely to find in everyday life… The tale of the cut-down tree!

understanding the definition of conversion

Do you have a case where you believe conversion is at play? Connect with an experienced attorney for a free case review.