Having your car repossessed is one of the most upsetting things that can happen to a consumer. You need your car on a daily basis for transportation to school, work, grocery shopping and medical appointments. It’s one thing to be behind on car payments, but it is far more terrifying to go outside and find your car missing or, worse yet, being repossessed! Most repossession agents do not want to have any contact with the consumer during the repossession process. They prefer to have access to the vehicle when no consumer is around, because they know that reduces the risk of a confrontation. For this reason, most repossessions take place at night. See Agent Handbook.
Contact the Debt Relief Law Center for Help with Repossessions 888-877-5103
In Florida and most other states, if you have failed to make scheduled monthly payments on your auto loan or if you fail to have car insurance, your finance company has the right to repossess your car. The finance company can do this by suing you to get a court order for possession of the vehicle. If the finance company exercised this option, a court officer or a sheriff may take the vehicle back and it will be sold at auction or via private sale.
Financial institutions have a second option. They can use “self-help by sending a private tow truck driver to take the car back without a court order. This is commonly referred to as a “repossession” or “repo.” This seems easy enough, but there is an important limitation on this option. 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 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 lawsuit later to get the car back.
If a repossession agent shows up at your home, and you know you have not kept up with monthly payments, 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 recent payment or arrangements to defer your payment or you have already satisfied the full loan balance — here are some suggestions that will help preserve your rights and safety.
For more information, go to Wrongful Repossessions.
The first thing that you should do is to call your car loan lender right away. In most cases, car repossession happens because of missed payments. Though, it can happen for other reasons, such as not carrying adequate insurance. If that’s the case, adjusting your insurance policy is all you need to do. Find out why your car was taken so you can rectify the situation. It’s also possible that your lender made a mistake. Perhaps they repossessed the wrong car, or your account was accidentally marked as delinquent when you’re current on payments. If that’s the case for you, a phone call can help fix things quickly.
Rule number one when encountering a repossession agent is to stay calm and avoid confrontation. If you become hostile, the agent may feel the need to escalate in order to complete the job. When you remain calm, you reduce the chances of violence. Don’t make things worse and risk injury or arrest by losing your cool. Be the calm person in the situation. If the repossession agent tries to escalate the situation, stand down and seek legal counsel.
If you have a smartphone, take video and photos of the actual repossession to help establish key facts. Or, if you have a spouse, friend or neighbor on the scene, have them take the video while you deal with the repossession. On-the-scene videos are common and provide strong evidence of what was said and done.
The presence of a camera will also cause all the participants to think twice about their behavior.
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,” you must state your intent clearly. It should be enough to firmly state such things as:
After you protest the respossession, 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. Once you have objected to the repossession 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 Florida law. Any further action to take the car back is a breach of the peace, and therefore illegal.
If you have objected and asked the repo agents to leave without success, you should contact law enforcement. The job of law enforcement 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 office or deputy should support your request that the agents leave. 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 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:
Even though you are not required to turn over the car, follow any instructions given by the police. Again, this is a car. There is no reason to get arrested, injured or shot over a vehicle.
Last, if the police have not stopped the repossession, ask for your personal property from the vehicle. It might not be easy. The repo agents might claim there was nothing in the vehicle, or demand that you sign a release of liability first. You can avoid these problems by demanding that you be allowed to clear out the car before the repossession agent takes it. If they refuse – 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 recorded the fact that they’ve taken your personal property and that you expect those items will be promptly returned.
Ultimately, if your car is repossessed over your objection, Florida law makes that repossession illegal and places you in a position where you can demand a remedy or possibly the return of your car.
The Debt Relief Law Center specializes in auto repossession in Florida. If you have a problem, call us for a free consultation at 888-877-5103. Offices located at 3670 Maguire Boulevard, Suite 310, Orlando, FL 32803.