One of the most unsettling things that can happen to a consumer is to have their car repossessed. It is unnerving enough to walk outside your home and not find your car where you left it, but to find yourself in the middle of a repossession can be terrifying. While the repossession agents are used to the kind of confrontation that can happen in the midst of an active repo, most consumers have never had to deal with a person on their own property, trying to take their car. At the same time, most repossession agents do not want to run into consumer while they are in the middle of a repossession. They prefer to have access to the vehicle when no consumer is around, because they know that if the consumer is present there is a risk of a confrontation.
If the repo agent cannot get access to the vehicle – either because it is in a garage or parked in – they will contact the consumer and demand that the consumer give access to the car. Some consumers may be terrified, particularly if the repo agents are armed or begin to make threats. In that kind of a situation, events can easily spiral out of control and trigger actions that will be regretted for years.
Repossession law in Michigan
If you have failed to make payments on your vehicle, your finance company has the right to take the vehicle back. They can do this by either suing you to get a court order for possession of the vehicle. If they finance company exercised this option, they can use a court officer or a sheriff to take the vehicle back and auction it. Finance companies have a second option. They can send a private tow truck driver to take the vehicle without a court order. This is commonly referred to as a “repossession” or “repo” of the vehicle. This seems easy enough, but there is an important limitation on this second right. Finance companies can only repossess without a court order if they do not “breach the peace.” This means that if a creditor wants to avoid going to court, it will need to make sure that it does not cause a problem when the car is repossessed. It also means that If the creditor tries to repossess the vehicle without an order, it can always bring a law suit later to get the car back.
So if a repossession agent shows up at your home, you may not want to object. You may simply want to turn the vehicle over. If, however, you have good reason to oppose the repossession — such as having made a payment arrangement, or having just paid the balance — here are some suggestions that will help preserve your rights and keep you safe.
- Stay Calm: Rule number one for everybody who encounters a repossession agent is to keep calm, cool, and collected. If you become upset and hostile, the repossession agent may feel the need to escalate in order to complete the repossession. By keeping calm, you reduce the chances that violence will occur. Remember, this is a car, not your child. There is no good reason to risk injury to you or the repossession agent over a car. More importantly if you lose your temper and the police arrive at the scene, they may view you as a threat. This could mean being arrested, tasered, or shot. Again you want to be the calm person in the situation, not an aggressor. If the repossession agent tries to escalate the situation, you should stand down and seek legal counsel afterwards.
- Record the Repossession: Once a repossession starts, people get excited and tend to forget important details of the incident. If you have a smartphone handy, it can help preserve evidence of what happened during the repossession and establish key facts. Better still, if you have a spouse, friend or neighbor on the scene with you, have them take the video while you deal with the repossession. These on-the-scene-videos are common place now and provide strong evidence of what was said and happened during the repossession. These videos can resolve factual disputes that would otherwise boil down to a “he said, she said” argument. Almost as important, the presence of a camera on the scene will cause all the participants to think twice about their behavior. Participants who know that they are being recorded tend to behave more appropriately.
- Object to the Repossession: If you see the repossession agent in the process of taking your vehicle, you have the right to object. While there are no “magic words” that you need to say, you must be clear about your intention,
- “I object to this repossession.”
- “Do not take my car.”
After you object, the repo agent or police officer may try to convince you to turn over the keys or stand back. If you do not want the car taken, you should make clear that they if they continue, they do so over your objection. You can also inform the repossession agent that the need to leave your property and that they are trespassing,
- “Please leave my property.”
- “You are trespassing, please leave.”
Once you have objected and asked the repossession agent to leave, they no longer have a legal right to continue in the repossession. They might still insist on proceeding, but if so, they are continuing in violation of the law. Beyond that point, any further action to repossess the car is a breach of the peace, and therefore illegal.
- Call the Police: If you have objected and asked the repo agents to leave without success, it’s time to call the police. The job of the police is to maintain the peace and protect people from crime. If the repossession agents have refused to leave your private property they are trespassing, and the police should support your request that the repossession agents leave. But don’t be surprised if the police already know that there’s a repossession in progress. Most repossession agents will notify the police before they begin a repossession. Once they arrive on the scene, remain calm, be polite and continue to record the incident. You should let the police know that you have objected to the repossession and asked the repo men to leave. At that point, the police should instruct the repo agents to leave the scene because they are trespassing.In some situations, the police may not understand that you have the right to object to the repossession. If so, they may try to convince you to turn over the car or the keys. You have no legal obligation to do this if you have objected. Again, make your position clear that you do not agree to turn over the car, and you object to the repossession. If the police want you to turn over the vehicle, you should not do so unless they expressly instruct you to do so. If you think that they are siding with the repossession agents, you can ask them to make their position clear,
- “Are you instructing me to turn over the car?”
- “Are you saying they have the right to be on my property?”
Even though you are not required to turn over the car, you should follow any instructions given to you by the police. Again, this is a car. There is no reason to get hurt or arrested, injured or shot over a vehicle.
- Ask for Your Personal Items: Last, if the police have not stopped the repossession, ask for your personal belongings from the vehicle. Many times, people have difficulty in retrieving their personal belongings after a repossession. In someinstances, the repo agents claim there was nothing in the vehicle, and in other instances they may demand that the consumer sign a release of liability before receiving their belongings. You can avoid either of these problems by demanding that you be allowed to clear out the car before the repossession agent takes it. If they refuse to allow this – and your camera should still be rolling to capture this – make sure that you list off the things that you want to retrieve from the vehicle, and let them know you expect these to be returned. That way, you will have made a record of the fact that they’ve taken these items and expect they will be promptly returned.
Ultimately, if your car is repossessed over your objection, Michigan law makes that repossession illegal and places you in a position where you can demand a remedy or possibly the return of your car. Lyngklip & Associates, Consumer Law Center, PLC can offer a free consultation for victims of illegal repossession. Call us today at (248) 208-8864. We can help you understand your rights and can develop a plan to return your vehicle. The consultation is free and there is no fee unless we are able to recover for you.
- Demand for Return of Vehicle
- Demand for Return of Personal Property
- Demand for Account Statement
Related Pages on Our Site:
Legal Decisions and Statutes
- Hensley v. Gassman, 693 F.3d 681 (6th Cir. 2012)
- Soldal v. Cook County, Illinois, 506 U.S. 56 (1992)
- Montgomery v. Huntington Bank, 346 F. 3d 693 ( 6th Cir. 2003)
- Watkins v. Kanitz, No. 1:03-CV-428 (W.D. Mich. Sept. 24, 2004)
- Smith v. AFS Acceptance, L.L.C., ND Ill. Case No. 11 C 5340 (N.D. Ill. June 1, 2012).
- M.C.L. § 445.915(j) and (k)
- M.C.L. § 440.9609
Other Web Resources