I am currently working on a fictitious legal system and am looking for a single word for property damage. I could not find a legal term that fits, though you may know of better resources than I. It would be ideal if it were a noun so it could be placed in the following context: "The accused committed an act of ..."

Any and all suggestions would be welcome and I hope you enjoy the challenge.

  • 1
    Not a single word, but in common law trespass to chattels is a civil action to claim damages when your personal property has been damaged or destroyed by another. Unlike most torts (civil wrongs), it is an intentional tort: deliberate action is required but only the touching of the chattel must be deliberate. It's a nice phrase, though, with a good old legal air to it. (For wrongful taking, the action is called trover, and to recover something taken the action is replevin.)
    – tmgr
    Dec 16, 2018 at 0:01
  • It does have a nice ring, where is it from? Britain? Dec 16, 2018 at 0:03
  • Originally, England. It's gone where the common law's gone, which is all the places where the English went, stayed and stole.
    – tmgr
    Dec 16, 2018 at 0:05
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    Legal terminology is always specific to a particular legal system. If you are creating a fictional legal system, it is up to you to create its terminology in whatever way suits your literary purposes.
    – jsw29
    Dec 16, 2018 at 1:23
  • What would be wrong with simple "damage" even in English? Here, you say you're working on a legal system, which stops it being about English per se, and a fictitious legal system at that, which suggests you might find more help somewhere like SE Writing or Worldbuilding. At the end of the day why not either invent a fictitious word, or give up trying to force a single word to do something the real legal system hasn't done in how many centuries? Oct 21, 2021 at 23:07

3 Answers 3


In common law, in the case of real property (i.e. land), waste is used.

According to the relevant definition in the legal dictionary at Dictionary.com:


n. 1) any damage to real property by a tenant which lessens its value to the landlord, owner or future owner. An owner can sue for damages for waste, terminate a lease of one committing waste and/or obtain an injunction against further waste.

Essentially, waste is unauthorised changes made to the land. Waste describes the damage and cause of action but waste doesn't necessarily involve a criminal act. Also waste is waste whether it was caused deliberately or not.

Technically, the definition given above isn't 100% accurate and waste can actually improve the land, but in these cases it is distinguished as ameliorative waste.

However, its precise meaning in common law would not matter for your purposes - I presume you just want some kind of real-world hook to hang the concept on - waste would have sufficient verisimilitude, is conveniently general and also has a nice, harsh condemnatory ring to it.

  • Thank you, I'll keep it in mind but was looking for something that could also be used for other property e.g. a watch. Really nice work though, certainly very helpful. Dec 15, 2018 at 21:35
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    Then there's the interesting expression: "to lay waste," from which comes "laid waste," as in "The destructive tenant laid waste to what was once a lovely apartment." Dec 15, 2018 at 21:35
  • @ALambentEye If you're constructing a fictional legal system, you can do whatever you want... that is, if you like the word! It helps that in this instance the term isn't really known outside of legal circles.
    – tmgr
    Dec 15, 2018 at 21:41
  • @tmgr Touché. XD Dec 15, 2018 at 21:42
  • The OP's example of a sentence in which the term is to be used suggests that what is sought is a term of criminal law, not of the law of property.
    – jsw29
    Dec 16, 2018 at 3:36

vandalism could work, if the damage is done on purpose:

: willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property

(source: Merriam-Webster)

  • +1 and I guess a fictitious legal system could be constructed so as to make no distinction between willful and accidental/ careless property damage.
    – Spencer
    Dec 15, 2018 at 19:52
  • Although a valid response, I was looking for a more exotic term. Thank you for the input! Dec 17, 2018 at 18:55

Prior to construction surveyors carry out a dilapidation survey

Primarily used for structures or land it can also be used for rentals, objects and people dilapidated tramp so for a watch we see it used by professionals here as in,

"Restoration requires, time, patience and skill to breath new life into a dilapidated watch that has been neglected."

A similar concept is dereliction that is not just for duty, in legalise it is similarly neglected.

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