What Can I do if my Car was Illegally Repossessed?

Car Repossession

Illegal or wrongful car repossession typically means that your lender or the repo agent didn’t follow the proper procedures for repossession your vehicle.  Learning about the rights and wrongs of vehicle repossessions can help you determine whether your car was illegally repossessed.  Both the repo agent and the lender must follow the rules.  Whether or not you missed payments, borrowers have rights against the lender and repo agent when a car, truck, motorcycle, boat or RV is repossessed.Car Repossesion 101

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Can the Police Help with My Car Repossession?

Car Being Towed Repossessed

Borrowers facing repossession may contact the police to have an officer on hand when it’s time to surrender their vehicle. As well, the repo agent may request the presence of law enforcement. But can police assist with the car repossession?

Read on to learn more about the role of law enforcement in the process of repossessing a car, truck, motorcycle, RV or boat.

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What Can I Do If My Car Was Repossessed by Mistake?

When you default on a car loan, your lender can repossess your vehicle. Most defaults come from someone failing to make their monthly payments. If you’re up to date on your payments and your car was repossessed, then clearly, a wrongful car repossession has occurred.

But even if you have missed payments, lenders and repo agents need to follow the law. If your vehicle has been unlawfully repossessed, you may be able to sue your lender and the repo agent.

Here’s what lenders and repossession companies need to do to stay within the bounds of the law:

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Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

Protection from Repossession

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides special protections for active service members that have defaulted on car loan payments.  To qualify, servicemembers must have signed the loan agreement, and paid at least the deposit or first installment payment, before entering military service. To repossess a vehicle, the lender must obtain a court order.

Reasons for Repossession

Vehicle repossessions occur for a number of reasons. Most often, a vehicle is repossessed due to missed payments or the lapse of insurance. When a car is repossessed, lenders need to follow the law, whether payments were missed or not. If the lender overlooks the law, the servicemember may bring a lawsuit against the lender.

Requirements AFTER Repossession

After a vehicle has been repossessed, the lender is required to send proper notices to the borrower. Shortly after the repossession, the lender will send a letter called a Notice of Intent to Sell Property, which confirms the repossession occurred and details terms for to retrieve the vehicle. If the borrower is not able to meet the terms, the lender may choose to sell the vehicle at an auction or private sale. Once the sale has taken place, the lender will send a second letter called a Deficiency Notice, which informs the borrower of the sale price of the vehicle and any remaining balance due.  If the borrower is not notified properly, there may be grounds to file a lawsuit against the lender.

Credit Reporting and Car Repossession

If a servicemember’s vehicle has been repossessed, he or she may face loss or denial of a security clearance, or other types of punishment based on mismanagement of their finances.  In addition, credit reports may list delinquencies or the repossession and lower credit scores, which make it difficult to obtain a new loan.

All consumers are entitled to receive one free credit report every twelve months directly from Transunion, Experian and Equifax.  Check your credit reports , and make sure the information is accurate.

Seek Legal Assistance

Servicemembers that have fallen behind on payments for auto loans and are facing repossession should seek the advice from a qualified consumer protection attorney to advise on their consumer rights.  Flitter Milz knows the laws to protect borrowers from wrongful repossession and inaccurate credit reporting. Contact us for a no cost consultation.

Are You the Victim of a Wrongful Vehicle Repossession?

If you fell behind on payments and your vehicle was repossessed, you may feel powerless. But not all repossessions are handled lawfully, and you may be able to take action against the lender or repossession agent.

When is a repossession wrongful?

Once a borrower defaults on terms of his or her auto loan agreement, the lender may repossess the vehicle. The agreement details events that lead to a default. For example, failure to make monthly payments on time, or in full, are common defaults. Lenders are not generally required to notify the borrower in advance of a repossession.

Lenders usually contract with a third-party, such as a towing company or forwarding service, to handle the repossession. The repo agent is provided with home and work addresses, and any other useful information to help locate you and your vehicle.

Without warning, the repo agent comes to take the vehicle from your home, place of employment, a location in your neighborhood, or even the store where you shop. Some vehicles, often those bought from a used car lot that also accepts payment (called a buy-here, pay-here lot), may have a location device or a kill-switch installed.

Lenders and their hired repossession agents must follow the law when taking a vehicle. If a car or truck has been wrongfully repossessed, the borrower may have the right to sue the lender and repo agent, even if the borrower missed payments or defaulted in some way.

Did the lender repossess your vehicle by mistake?

If the lender did not have the right to repossess your vehicle but did so anyway, a wrongful repossession may have occurred.

First, gather your loan agreement and review the terms for default. Second, review your payment records for amounts paid, payment date, form of payment, (such as check or money order), and the date the payment was applied to your account.

Did the repossession agent follow the law?

If the repossession agent didn’t follow the law when they took your vehicle, it may be considered unlawful vehicle repossession.

  • Repossession agents must inform the local police of their intent to repossess a vehicle. If you find that your vehicle is missing, contact the local police or the lender to confirm whether your vehicle was repossessed or stolen.
  • Repossession agents may not “breach the peace” in taking a vehicle. This means that they can’t use physical force or threaten physical force. They also can’t access a fenced or locked area on your property to retrieve the vehicle, unless permission was given. The repo agent is required to leave your property if asked.
  • Repossession agents are not allowed to damage personal property. If damage occurs, be sure to take photographs or get statements from witnesses.
  • Did the lender send you full and proper notice immediately after the repossession, and again after any auction or sale of the vehicle? If not, your consumer rights may have been violated.

Did the police “Breach the Peace?”

Vehicle repossession often takes the consumer by surprise. Confrontations may develop, and either the borrower or repo agent calls the police for assistance. The police are to aid in keeping the peace. They may assist in diffusing an altercation between the repo agent and the borrower.

The police are not supposed to enable a repossession, or order the borrower to “step aside” or “turn over keys”. They may not threaten arrest or command the borrower to turn over the vehicle. At this point, the police may have crossed the line from keeping the peace to breaching the peace. This could be a violation of your constitutional rights, enabling you to bring a lawsuit against the police department, the repossession company, and the lender for a wrongful repossession.

Steps to take

During the repossession, take written notes of the events that occur. Be sure to include:

  • Date and time of day
  • Name of repossession company, agent name, and license plate of tow truck
  • Police officer name, department, and badge number
  • Police report and number
  • Witness names and contact information
  • Photographs of damage to the vehicle or property
  • A statement detailing events, or take a video on your cell phone

Gather and remove all personal property and car loan documents from the vehicle, including:

  • Car purchase and finance documents: Retail Installment Sales Contract, buyer’s agreement, insurance and registration
  • Family items: pay checks, medication, school books, clothing, etc.
  • Work items: computers, briefcases, equipment, etc.

After the repossession, the lender is required to provide certain notices to the consumer. First, a Notice of Intent to Sell Property is to be sent and received in advance of the vehicle’s sale or auction. It states terms to get your vehicle back, along with date and time of sale or auction. As well, this notice will state the location of your vehicle so that you can retrieve personal property.

Second, a Deficiency Notice is sent after the vehicle’s sale. This notice presents the sale amount of the vehicle, subtracted from the balance owed on the loan, and states any deficient balance or surplus. Even larger banks or credit unions make mistakes in these documents. At times, this could make the repossession illegal.

If your car, truck, or motorcycle was repossessed, you should contact a consumer rights lawyer who is experienced in car repossession law. You may be able to pursue a case for wrongful repossession.

Police Involvement in Car Repossessions

In most states, repossession agents have to inform the local police department of their intent to seize a vehicle before the repossession takes place.

During the vehicle repossession, the police may be contacted by the borrower or the repo agent to come to the scene. Whether it is the borrower or repo agent who contacts the police, the officer must follow specific guidelines so he or she doesn’t violate the borrower’s constitutional rights.

What is the Role of the Police During a Vehicle Repossession?

The police are there to help keep the peace. If the situation becomes volatile, they should assist in diffusing the confrontation between the repo agent and the borrower.

The police are there to protect you and keep anyone from being harmed. It is not the police’s role to assist the repo-man in taking your car.

What Type of Police Involvement is Unacceptable?

The police should not assist or enable the repossession.

Unless the lender has taken the unusual step of obtaining a court order, the police should not order you to turn over your keys or to “step aside” and let the repo man take your vehicle.

If the police threaten you with arrest or command you to turn over the vehicle, they may have crossed the line from keeping the peace to breaching the peace. This could violate your constitutional rights.

While you obviously may need to yield to the command of an armed law enforcement officer, make it clear that you protest the repossession.

I Think the Police Crossed the Line. What Can I Do?

You may be entitled to bring a lawsuit against the police department, the repossession company, and the lender for wrongful vehicle repossession.

Gather statements from witnesses, if any, and obtain the police report that details the incident. Take a video of your interaction with the repo agent and/or police officers.  Photographs the scene, including your vehicle and any damaged property. Write a statement, including the date and time, of what happened. Seek legal help from a consumer rights attorney.