Repo Nightmare: When Something Goes Wrong With a Repossession
Jan. 24, 2023
If you fall behind on your car payments and the much-publicized “repo man” shows up to seize your vehicle, you’re not alone. According to statistics, some 2.2 million vehicle repossessions occur each year in the U.S.
The person repossessing your vehicle is generally an independent contractor who is not an employee of your car dealer or your lender. Texas law limits these individuals’ conducts in repossessing your vehicle to prevent violence and other illegal acts.
But, as a consumer, you also have an obligation to make your car available to those persons or institutions that have a secured interest in it, that is, lenders or lessors. In other words, if you fall behind in your payments, you cannot deliberately hide your vehicle so it cannot be repossessed.
What happens, though, if during the act of repossession, your property is damaged or another illegal act such as “breach of the peace” takes place? What are your rights?
If you’ve had a vehicle repossessed in DeSoto, Texas, or anywhere near Dallas or Fort Worth, and you suffered other property damage as a result, contact the Hunt Law Firm. Attorney Gwendolyn E. Hunt can assess the situation, advise you of your legal options, and represent you in your pursuit to recover compensation for your losses.
Repossession Law in Texas
Some people may think that they have to be at least 30 days past due on a car payment before the lender can have it repossessed.
Under Texas law, however, a lender can repossess your vehicle even if you’re one day late on your payment. Even if the lender accepted late payments in the past — say 10 or 15 days after payment was due — that doesn’t mean the lender will continue that practice. They may get fed up dealing with you and just send out the repo man.
Now, the question arises, “Why do repossessions usually take place late at night or in the wee hours of the morning?” This is probably because it’s easier to seize a vehicle when no one is awake to challenge the act. The tow truck people out to repossess your vehicle have no personal financial interest other than being paid for the job, and they probably want to avoid ugly confrontations. They also know (or should know) that consumers have certain rights that they can assert.
Regarding these vehicle owners’ rights, Texas places limitations on what a repossession agent can and cannot do. The person or persons out to take back your vehicle cannot commit what is called a "breach of peace.” Breaches of peace include:
Entering a secured area, such as a closed garage, or a gated, fenced or guarded area, without the owner’s permission
Entering a parking lot by “tricking” the code or following another vehicle in
Breaking or opening any lock, door or gate
Taking a vehicle after an oral objection by the consumer made before the car is hooked to the tow truck (thus wee-hour visits)
Damaging the vehicle during repossession
Blocking or lifting the vehicle while someone is in it
Pushing or shoving the consumer or committing any type of violence
Making a public disturbance by shouting, honking a horn, or contacting neighbors
Moving other vehicles blocking the one to be repossessed
Threatening the consumer with arrest or bodily harm
Getting Your Vehicle Back
If your vehicle is repossessed, you have a 10-day window to try to reclaim it. This usually means you have to come up with the full balance due and pay it, though some lenders may be willing to come to other terms with you.
After 10 days, the vehicle will be sold at auction (at wholesale value), and the lender will bill you for the balance left on your loan. Your lender must send you full and proper notice immediately after the repossession and again after any auction or sale of the vehicle. Since the vehicle is being sold at wholesale, the remaining balance can be pretty shocking.
Another way to retake possession is to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, with the vehicle being included in the repayment plan you submit to the bankruptcy court. Remember again, however, that you must act within 10 days, or the vehicle will likely be auctioned off.
What If Other Damage Occurs During the Repossession?
Not all repossession personnel follow the rules. Some will go to extreme lengths to take back the vehicle and get paid the “bounty” owed them for the act. A famous case in Michigan involved a repossession gone wild. The repo man not only broke through a locked gate, but also moved a second vehicle out of the way to repossess the vehicle in question.
The second vehicle was left in the street, where it suffered damage and was then impounded by police. The owner then not only had a damaged vehicle and an impound fee to pay, but he also had been subjected to illegal entry onto his property. He clearly had a legal claim, and he and his attorney sued both the repossession company and the lender.
Fight for Your Rights
Though you cannot deliberately hide your vehicle from your creditor, you certainly do have other rights under Texas repossession laws. Note that the repo man cannot take your vehicle if you object so long as it is not yet hooked to the tow truck. This can give you some room to work with the lender on payment options.
And, if the repossession agent commits a breach of peace, you may have legal grounds to seek compensation for your damages, as did the man in Michigan who lost not only one vehicle but had another damaged in the process.
If your vehicle was repossessed in Dallas, Fort Worth, or any of its surrounding areas, and you suffered some sort of property damage a result, contact the Hunt Law Firm in DeSoto, Texas, for advice on next steps.
Attorney Gwendolyn E. Hunt will fight for your rights and work to recover compensation for the damages you suffered. She can also help you try recover your vehicle through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing. Reach out today to schedule a consultation.