You’ve seen it in a million movies. There’s a bad breakup. One partner storms out of the house, leaving all their stuff behind. The next time that person comes back, there’s a bonfire in the front yard, and their now-ex is throwing the clothes, books, and game consoles they left behind into the flames.
Some media outlets even suggest that this is a healthy way to cope with a breakup. This can lead many people to think that burning someone’s belongings won’t have legal repercussions. That’s far from true.
No matter what, burning someone else’s possessions without permission is considered arson in Minnesota. The real question is just how steep the penalties will be if you are charged.
How Does Minnesota Define Arson?
Arson is more than just burning down buildings or setting fires for fun. The basic definition of arson is simple: the intentional burning of another person’s property without permission. That includes setting fire to your ex’s Xbox.
There are three kinds of arson in Minnesota: wildfire arson, negligent arson, and general arson. Setting your ex’s things on fire is a textbook case of general arson.
General arson is divided into five degrees or levels of severity. Fifth-degree arson is the lowest level, and it is the minimum charge you will face if your ex is upset with you.
Fifth-degree arson is a misdemeanor charge made when someone burns property with a value of less than $300. The charge is increased if you burn the belongings in public housing or apartment property, or burn more than $300 worth of property.
Arson and Your Ex
Let’s say you’re just trying to get rid of your ex’s old posters and books that they left behind. You’re simply trying to “clean up,” not get revenge. Burning them out in your backyard seems like a harmless form of catharsis as long as you do it safely.
However, if you don’t have written permission from them to burn those items, they can still press charges. Additionally, if it turns out that one of those posters or books was more valuable than it appeared, things can quickly get out of control.
Plus, even if you think you’re being safe, any fire has the potential to spread. Everyone is aware of the Australian brushfires – well, many of them were caused accidentally.
If your breakup bonfire leads to a forest fire, you can be charged with wildfire arson. Negligent arson (when a fire spreads and damages property unintentionally) is also a more serious charge.
Both of these situations can lead to a year or more in jail and fines of up to $10,000, depending on the damages.
How to Safely Get Rid of Your Ex’s Things in Minnesota
Burning things may provide a sense of closure, but there are better options. For example, the KonMarie method – from popular author and streaming star Marie Kondo – can be helpful for this kind of “decluttering.”
This specific method for getting rid of sentimental items involves acknowledging the memories tied to the item, good and bad, and thanking the item for its place in your life before giving or throwing it away.
Doing this can help a lot of people find closure when it’s not really available elsewhere – like in a messy breakup.
Not your style? That’s okay! Other safe options include having a friend return the items, donating them, or simply boxing them up in a closet.
Breakups are hard, we know. Still, arson isn’t the way for anyone to handle their emotions. Destroying someone’s personal belongings in any situation is legally fraught, so it’s much safer to find closure another way.
Getting charged with arson would be like the cherry on top of an awful emotional sundae. Don’t take the risk – take the high road.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).