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Statute of Limitations On Loaned Items

I am a private music lesson teacher that got my start teaching as a teenager and then picked it up again as an adult in my 20’s.

I received a text from my best friend this morning. She stated that I borrowed a Christmas music book from her a while back and she wants it back. I vaguely remember borrowing a book from her when I first started teaching again and didn’t have a library built up approximately 12 years ago. I’ve since acquired literally hundreds of music Christmas books. I was shocked that she asked me this because I had forgotten about it because that was 4 houses ago, a marriage ago, etc…A lot of life has happened and I can’t even picture the book. I asked her if she remembered what it was called or what it looked like and she can’t. I spent two hours looking through all my music books to see if her name was written inside any of them and I found nothing.

My questions to you are:

Is there a statute of limitations for demanding something that was loaned to someone?

Should I just purchase a new random music book for her since I can’t replace the one she lent me? 1120-18

You ask an interesting question regarding a statute of limitations to demand the return of a loaned item but I submit that there is another question you have failed to ask and that is, “Is there a statute of limitations on how long a loanee can retain possession of a loaned item?” And yes, there is.

Taking possession of an item that has been loaned to you comes with an implicit understanding that the loan period is not for an eternity. There is an implied understanding that if a DVD or a reading book has been loaned, the loan period consists of the time it takes to read the book or watch the movie. The loan of a Christmas music book implies that the lender gave it to you to use during the Holiday season and then would have a reasonable expectation of it being returned to her once that holiday season was over.

You asked to borrow a music book and then never returned it. What has transpired over time is that you didn’t “borrow” the music book, you took it to own indefinitely. Your best friend has extended a lot of grace to you in being patient for the return of her music book.

Is 12 years too long to wait for the return of an item and then asking for it back? Maybe. But it’s clearly been on your best friend’s mind, at least off and on, for 12 years. She may have, in kindness, not reminded you of the loan because she has witnessed the stress of you moving 4 times and go through a divorce and struggling to build your music teaching business.

Since neither of you can remember which book it is, I would suggest that you offer to your friend the option of either coming to your house and choosing one of your many music books in your now extensive library or choosing a new music book that you will purchase for her.

{ 42 comments }
{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Marie November 26, 2018, 4:35 am

    On the rare occassion I borrow something (like a dvd) from a friend, I always put a sticky note in it with the name of the owner and date borrowed. I ask that person when he/she wants it back, and I put the intended date of return in my calendar so I can’t forget.

    OP, you basically stole the book. This wasn’t your intention, but you took posession of an item that wasn’t yours, and that is in fact stealing. Your friend was probably scared to damage your friendship and didn’t bring it up earlier, but finally decided to put her foot down because not saying anything was also damaging your friendship (even though you may not realized it).

    If you really want to mend your friendship, return the book and apologize. Buy her some flowers or something. You can even write “most patient friend ever” or something on a cake so you can both laugh about it while enjoying the cake instead of it becoming an elephant in the room.

  • LizaJane November 26, 2018, 8:30 am

    The writer asked the wrong question. Instead of, “How do I get out of this?”, it should have been, “How do I make this right?”

    Fortunately, Admin answers them both.

    • Lily November 30, 2018, 2:07 pm

      Well said. I was going to go with
      Q1 – No
      Q2 – If you can’t find it, buy a new copy.

  • JxB November 26, 2018, 9:19 am

    I sympathize with the lender. I had a set of religious study books, one book per religion. Loaned the one on Judaism to a friend at work when her child was doing a school project. Book didn’t make its way back and then she suffered a tragic miscarriage. Of course I wasn’t going to hit her up for my book. Health issues and work problems dragged on until she left our work rather abruptly, also while she was moving to a new house. I totally lost contact with work friend. It’s been 20+ years and I’d STILL ask her about that book if I ever saw her again. Intellectually, I realize she had far, far more pressing things with two children, health problems, employment issues. Yet I still morn the loss of that book. (It was part of a college study set and – at least at the time – could not be ordered individually.) Books can have a lot of meaning to the owner. Plus, it can rankle that a friend doesn’t return a borrowed item.

  • Rinme November 26, 2018, 9:38 am

    I’d buy her a nice new book and attach an apology note and some cookies.

  • Lauren November 26, 2018, 9:58 am

    When my sister and I were younger we were both kind of jerks about borrowing stuff. I was a miser with a death grip on all my possessions, and I kept a running inventory on items I loaned out. Meanwhile, my sister was of the opinion that we were family, that I should lighten up and she would often “forget” about things she borrowed, which I thought was just the worst thing ever. The arguments were epic.
    We both grew up, she is much more mindful of things she borrows, and I only really worry now about things that are either irreplaceable or very meaningful to me. If she takes my blender and doesn’t return it, nobody is going to die.
    If I were you, I would just apologize and take the suggested advice. I would also make a big deal about it. I know she forgot the name of the book, but (just because I used to be a complete freak about this stuff) it may just bother her a lot that you couldn’t be bothered to keep track of her stuff, no matter how insignificant it is.

  • JD November 26, 2018, 11:26 am

    I basically quit loaning books for that very reason — almost no one seemed concerned that they were keeping my property without my permission, and they never returned them. I have three close friends who promptly return books, and those, I will happily make loans to and borrow from. The rest — nope. I agree with Admin, the emphasis in this post is on the wrong question: it shouldn’t be how long does she have to ask for it back, it should be how can I make this right after making the faux-pas of keeping a book that didn’t belong to me? The excuse that life had been busy doesn’t work for me: everyone I know has a busy life and yet many people live up to their obligations in spite of being busy. I like Admin’s suggestions, and I would add my suggestion to take care of this right away.

  • Maggie November 26, 2018, 11:34 am

    I’m surprised your friend waited this long to ask about the book. However, the fact remains – that’s her book, not yours. You owe her the book and if you can’t figure out which book, you owe her something equivalent as a replacement – regardless of how long you’ve had it. Maybe have her come over and see if she recognizes the book by sight?

  • Devin November 26, 2018, 11:35 am

    Since neither of you remember what the book was, it probably wasn’t a family heirloom or any special collection. I would just offer to buy a new holiday song book, something typical of the books you usually teach from (I have no idea if there is a wide array of price points). Send it to her with a nice apology note. You made a mistake, and you can easily fix it.
    I’ve been in the givers side of this before where I lent out a costume piece and it was years later I went looking for it and couldn’t find it. After doing a little digging realized I had lent it to a friend 5 years prior. I reached out to the friend to see if they still had it, and surprise they did!! They offered to buy me a new peice because they had worn mine a few times since and felt bad that they had also forgotten to return it. Since I now lived in a different city they were able to replace it for less than it would have cost to ship it directly. Win win!!

  • mark132 November 26, 2018, 1:00 pm

    Part of the problem with something so long in the past is that it is possible you actually did return it a long time ago, and can’t remember returning it.

  • staceyizme November 26, 2018, 1:45 pm

    It’s an “oops” to overlook the return of someone else’s property. Even if accidentally done, amends (and a book) are still overdue. In the time it took you to submit your question, you could have resolved the issue by offering a choice of replacement book and an apology. There’s a little whiff of “it’s been so long, why would it even merit a mention… or even matter?” in your note. That is fine as an attitude vis a vis your own property, but not someone else’s.

    • Abby November 26, 2018, 3:16 pm

      I totally agree. I was quite a bit put off by the statute of limitations question, unless the OP means should she feel guilty for not being able to produce the exact copy of the borrowed book after 12 years. But it could be interpreted as the OP thinking that not asking for something back until after a certain amount of time implies a forfeiture of property.

  • Ripple November 26, 2018, 1:57 pm

    I once loaned a favorite book to a co-worker, by an author who is deceased but whose books are still issued now and then. After a time, I asked for it back so I could re-read it; she said it was in one of the boxes they had filled when they did a lot of decluttering and she would try to find it. More time went by, she never returned it, changed jobs so not easily reachable, and finally I bought a new copy when it was reissued. My fault for loaning it in the first place and not asking more often, her fault for not returning it in a timely fashion. It would still be nice if she suddenly found it again and returned it to me.

    In this case, find out if there are specific songs she wants and offer a new book that includes those songs. You don’t want to give her Silent Night type songs when she’s looking for Santa Claus is Coming to Town, or vice versa.

  • Kay_L November 26, 2018, 3:09 pm

    Generally, if you loan something to someone, you have an inherent responsibility to ask after it in a reasonable amount of time. Even courts will not entertain the return of money if the lender has let it go for a long time. The court will reason, why should we care if it wasn’t important to you for all these years? At least that is what I have gleaned from watching Judge Judy!

    The LW should just say to her friend “It’s been a long time, do you remember the title of the book or what it looked like?” And if she has the book give it back to her. If not, tell her that and offer to replace it.

    It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

    The best way to get something back that you have loaned out is to ask for it! Sometimes people simply forget. Other times they may be trying to convert your property to their own, but again, the way around that is to ask for it back!

    I guess I should check with my friend who loaned me all of his old librettos over 25 years ago. I still have them, don’t use them. I know that he wouldn’t have a use for them either. At the time he loaned them to me, it seemed that he wanted to get rid of them. And we have traded other things through the years.

    My point is that among close friends, to whom you would instantly give the shirt off your back if needed, things like this happen. Just talk to each other.

    I know it can be frustrating to spend two hours looking through old books. She should have asked first! It’s ok, after such a long time, to admit that you don’t remember. In some ways, it seems to me a characteristic of a dear old friendship, like the wrinkles and wear on an old leather couch. They’re not always pretty but the couch is still comfortable and your favorite spot.

  • ladyv21454 November 26, 2018, 3:38 pm

    I have a LOT of books in my home – as in a couple of hundred – and it would be easy for a borrowed book to get misplaced. That’s why I ALWAYS keep any books I borrow separate from my own books – so I’ll remember I have them and get them returned in a timely manner. With something as seasonal as a book of Christmas music, there is NO excuse for OP to not return the book as soon as the holidays were over. As JD said, the “My life is so busy!” excuse doesn’t cut it – almost all of us have busy lives, but we still manage to meet our obligations.

    • Anna November 27, 2018, 6:31 am

      I do this, too. Especially good for library books so you don’t have to go search for them when it’s time to return them. It stinks to come back from the library only to realize you returned six out of seven books.

  • Bea November 26, 2018, 4:22 pm

    She took the time to remind you. Even 12 years later. The proper response is to apologize that she had to ask, it’s on the borrower to promptly return items.

    Most likely something came up in terms of someone else wanting the book. “Hey mom…where’s that holiday song book we had growing up??” springs to my mind. Then she went “Huh…oh my, I remember OP borrowed it years ago! Let me ask her now!”

    It’s a shame that you have to ask if there’s a limit on when an owner forfeits their rights. Even if legally she couldn’t sue you, the moral thing is to replace it!

  • bopper November 26, 2018, 4:26 pm

    I would have her come over/take pictures of all Xmas books/facetime with her…she may recognize it even if she can’t remember the name.

    “I am delighted to return it to you! Here are photos of the Xmas books I have…could you be so kind as to remind me which one it is?”

  • Lady Catford November 26, 2018, 5:15 pm

    I, too, have a special place for borrowed books so that they can returned to their owner. I had borrowed a fantastic socks to knit book from a dear friend. I managed to spill tea on the opened book, and I quickly bought a replacement (same book) for it.
    Friend noticed that the book, explained ,”You didn’t have to do that.”
    My response was, ‘yes, I did.”
    What ever you borrow you must return in at least the same condition as you received it, and in a timely manner.
    I do not lend anything anymore because of the many items I have had to replace because they were either forgotten or returned in a damaged condition.

  • T-Belle November 26, 2018, 8:26 pm

    My favorite is to lend an item then be told the borrower has lent it to someone else, and if I want it back it’s up to me to contact that third party. Makes it all the more fun when I really don’t know the second borrower at all.

    As mentioned, I think it’s a nice idea is to find out what the lending person sees as a replacement book, and get that for them.

    • Sarugani November 27, 2018, 2:37 am

      I was still living at my parents‘ at the time. My boyfriend‘s mom lent me a book she thought I‘d like. I did like it very much and mentioned it to my mom who asked if she could read it, too. I gave it to her and she also liked it – so much that she in turn loaned it to her best friend (without asking me first, of course). By the time I got it back to return it to its original owner the back cover was nicely creased, probably from transport in a big and crammed handbag, I only got to hear from mom „yeah, that happened, but it‘s not so bad“. I profusely apologized to boyfriend‘s mom, offered to buy a replacement and never lent my mom another book.
      Of course, I should not have let the book out of my possession in the first place, but since it was staying under the same roof and my mom knew it was a loan for me as well and all the books in their house are in excellent condition, I assumed it would be okay. Live and learn, these days, I don‘t lend mom books (most of my books are in their original language, which helps with requests), but of I find something I think she‘d enjoy, I might give her a copy of the translation as present which she can do with as sehr pleases.

  • HookedOnEtiquette November 26, 2018, 10:21 pm

    Related to the post but I haven’t seen the answer to this. I have lots of things, books among them, and plenty of other things, that people ask me to loan them. I have the same attitude as I do with loaning money – I don’t loan money if I can’t afford to lose it. And if the borrower fails to return the money, they have met my sadly realistic expectation.

    So I do not know HOW to tell people “I’m sorry, I don’t loan out [whatever].” I know I can literally just say those words, but I know I cannot do that without a ”couching” phrase to follow up with. I don’t even bother saying it when I know what my followup will be — “BUT I TRUST YOU!”. So please help me, what phrase could I add that is also firm but still friendly and happy that someone is enjoying something I enjoy too without giving it to them?

    Thank you all, I ADORE ETIQUETTEHELL AND ALL I LEARN FROM EVERYONE, THANK YOU SO MUCH DEAR JEANNE

    • CWM November 27, 2018, 9:15 am

      This actually just came up in my friend group yesterday. Someone was asking for a series of books, and most of us have a copy. However…

      “These are actually first runs, and I’ve taken care of them for so long, I’d be devastated if anything happened to them.”

      “I just don’t feel comfortable lending these out.”

      “Sorry, my books are for me. Have you tried the library?”

      “Oh, if you get a copy let me know and I’ll do a read-along with you!”

      Also, if your friends get pushy, please remember that “No” is a complete sentence. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.

    • Bada November 27, 2018, 10:14 am

      Maybe something like, “I’m so sorry, but that’s not possible”? That’s a phrase I learned on this site that works pretty well.

      You could suggest a way for them to get it themselves as a follow up, if you think that softens it.

    • staceyizme November 27, 2018, 1:11 pm

      “I’m sorry, that won’t be possible.” Say it firmly. Emphasize “sorry” and throw in a little regret, before emphasizing “won’t” slightly in the second half of the phrase. Throw in a little half shoulder shrug or head shake, if you need it to make the delivery more “you”. (Head shake if you need help with “no”/ shoulder shrug if you need help with empathy in the “sorry” part.) That doesn’t give them a way to wedge in an argument about trust or about their relative value as a friend. Follow up questions can be met with a brief head shake and changing the subject. If saying “no” is hard for you, practice a little in your mind or in front of a mirror. That “pull” that you feel to please others instead of sticking with your own intentions will become more comfortable and diminish with each successful “no” you deliver. Remind yourself that their reactions or emotions are their own responsibility and not yours.

    • It's Me November 27, 2018, 3:20 pm

      Tell them, “Sorry, but I lend only one book at a time, and my friend Jeannie borrowed a book from me last week, so I can’t lend any more books until Jeannie returns it.” Even if you don’t know anyone named Jeannie.

  • Lara November 26, 2018, 11:00 pm

    Just want to say that you should definitely not just buy a random music book for her. She may not remember the title of the book, but she may remember that it had a wonderful arrangement of O Holy Night that she would like to play again, or that it included certain songs, or had a particular style to it, etc, etc. Not just any music book will do. Follow the Admin’s advice. Offer to let her come over and look for it, if it’s important to her to get that particular book back, or to choose a replacement that meets her particular needs.

  • NicoleK November 27, 2018, 7:05 am

    This is why I hate borrowing and lending books.

  • NicoleK November 27, 2018, 7:07 am

    You know what else I hate? If people leave their stuff at your house and then expect you to go out of your way to return it to them.

    • HookedOnEtiquette November 27, 2018, 11:14 am

      lololol I hear ya, NicoleK!! Like it’s YOUR FAULT they left something!

  • LuJessMin November 27, 2018, 9:52 am

    A man I worked with would borrow a season of Star Trek Deep Space Nine DVDs from me and only returned them when I would ask 6 months later. He had Season 4 and my Companion book when he was fired (and I had just asked him about it the day before!) I thought I would contact him after the first of the year, but then found out his wife was divorcing him right at that time. I finally got them back six months after that.

    • staceyizme November 27, 2018, 1:15 pm

      Perhaps he kept borrowing her favorite things and then holding them hostage indefinitely? That’s definitely taking undue advantage and I hope you don’t have to go through anything like that again.

  • EyesToTheSkies November 27, 2018, 5:32 pm

    This reminded me of an incident in my childhood when I was given a Ramona Quimby book for my 7th birthday, and loaned it to a friend. We moved away before she returned it. Several years later we moved back to the area, and visited her house. I very clearly remember walking up to her bookcase, finding my book, and proving it by the inscription my mother had written on the front page. She didn’t care, but that book was very precious to me and of all the books that were loaned and never returned, I’m glad I went after that one.

  • Lisa November 27, 2018, 10:18 pm

    Could you get her a gift card to a store that sells the types of books she’s looking for? That way she can pick out what she wants. Add in a bit extra beyond the typical cost for a similar book as your “fine” for the overdue book.

  • Ponytail November 28, 2018, 6:46 am

    To be fair, why should your mother ask YOU if she could loan the book to someone else? You didn’t ask the owner of the book if you could loan it to someone else… Just don’t loan out items that aren’t yours (to loan out) and all of this would have been avoided.

  • lkb November 28, 2018, 7:10 am

    Maybe I’m too possessive but it really grinds my gears when borrowers don’t return the books, DVDs, and CDs I lend them. I’ve had several go missing. I paid good money for them and I’d love to use them again because the borrowers have dropped out of my life without my having a chance to ask for the items. I make a point now to either not loan items or to clearly put my name and contact info on the item.
    On a similar note, in years past, I worked at our local library. A newspaper columnist wrote a supposedly lighthearted, humorous column about library fines and how ridiculous it was that they were a thing and that a person could get into legal trouble for not returning something so innocuous as a book. Others on our library staff responded in several letters to the editor that the columnist (actually a college intern) clearly did not know what she was talking about. Essentially, they pointed out that A. People often go to libraries because they can’t afford to buy a particular book. B. Libraries have the books because they pay money to purchase them. C. By not returning the book, the borrower is forcing the library to buy another copy. So why should there not be fines and other legal repercussions? As others have said above, it does amount to theft.

    • doodlemor November 30, 2018, 1:06 am

      A man in my area had his parole violated, and went back to prison because of library fines. He owed something like $1200 to the local public library.

      When the other guys on the bench heard why he had been sent back, they probably moved far, far away from him. [For you young’uns, that’s a reference to Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, by Arlo Guthrie.]

  • Margaret November 28, 2018, 8:19 am

    I have a good friend whom I trust to lend books to and she trusts me, too.

    We were talking on the phone and she said I should read a book her husband was currently reading because she knew I would find it very informative. She mentioned the title and I laughed and said I lent that book to YOU. She replied that she was sure they had bought the book. I said, look inside the cover. I had started putting name and address stickers inside my books since other borrowers weren’t so good at returning books. Sure enough, my sticker was in the book. In her defense, she had recently had a car accident and hit her head. So, we all eventually read the book and I got it back.

  • jokergirl129 November 28, 2018, 2:19 pm

    OP even though it’s been a long time since your friend first loaned you the book the fact remains that you never returned it to her and it would be best to try and give it back. Even if you can’t give back the original and have to buy a new version it’ll still be making up for the fact that you never gave the original back. A couple of the comments suggested having her over to look at the books to see if there is any she recognizes as hers. I think this is a good idea and you and her should talk about that and see when it would be best for her to come over.

    If she can’t recognize the book by sight then talk to her and see what she does remember about the book. What songs did it have and so on and see about getting a new music book with the music she likes/remembers. This way you’ll be making it up to her and giving back what your borrowed.

  • Catherine St Clair November 29, 2018, 1:59 pm

    This is one of my pet peeves. I have loaned books that never came back. I loaned a baby gate to a co-worker and, when I asked for it to be returned, she happily said, “Oh, I gave that away.” I reminded her it was a loan, not a gift, and she just shrugged. She didn’t think she needed to repay me for it. A friend of mine keeps a book in which she writes down the date, the item, and has the borrower sign for it. I made my life more simple by refusing to loan out anything. You can come to my house and I’ll let you sit and read any book I have. You can come to my house and use my cake pans. You will not be taking anything home with you.

  • Nicole December 1, 2018, 2:05 am

    I have been burned in the past, and am now *very* picky about who I loan my belongings to.
    A friend in high school borrowed several graphic novels from me, all brand new and one I hadn’t even read yet. I never saw them again, and every time I asked she had a different story about what happened to the books and who had them.
    When the Lord of the Rings movies were in theatres, a friend of my parents’ asked to borrow my copies. It took almost a decade of asking for me to get them back; the fact that they had dinner with my parents on a monthly basis and never brought my books with them infuriated me. I only got the set back when I offered to drive the tipsy couple home one night, and took the opportunity to remove the books myself.

  • Mags December 4, 2018, 2:58 am

    I am seething resentment about every item that I have loaned that didn’t come back.

    Copy of pachabel’s canon sheet music that I loaned someone for a wedding and they never returned. I’ve never been able to find the same version again (21 years ago).

    Books I loaned a close relative while they were in the hospital for a month that I found out they left behind when they were discharged (15 years ago).

    First three Terry Pratchett books that I loaned to someone who really wanted to read them and never saw again (10 or so years ago).

    Book that a cousin borrowed because he was so bored whine whine and wasn’t I mean for not lending him more than one book, of course he will return them (21 years ago)

    And this one really chokes me – a cousin loaned a bunch of my music to her friend WITHOUT asking me first, and my favourite music book was not returned. About 13 years later, I ran into that friend and mentioned that I my music book had disappeared and I thought my cousin had loaned it to her. She said yes, probably and shrugged it off. That one was actually theft because I had not given anyone permission to take the book. (28 years ago)

    So no, there’s no statute of limitations on how long a person has the right to be annoyed that you took advantage of them.

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