While most state laws permit a creditor to repossess a motor vehicle in the case of a default in payments, it is generally the case that the recovery agent allow the owner to recover any personal property remaining in the vehicle at the time of repossession. Florida Statute Section 537.021(2) spells it out very clearly by affirming that prior to repossessing a motor vehicle, the lender and its agents shall afford the borrower a reasonable opportunity to remove any personal belongings without charge or additional cost to the borrower. Unfortunately, this legal mandate is often violated to the grave detriment of borrowers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau refers to this practice as “ransom for personal property.”
Recently, an epidemic of situations has occurred where recovery agents have withheld consumers’ personal property found in a repossessed vehicle unless the consumers paid an upfront fee. Notably, a lender may be legally responsible for this conduct even when the repossession agent is the one refusing to return consumers’ personal property without payment of a fee. Fortunately, the law provides several remedies for this illegal conduct including common law conversion, violation of the Florida Consumer Collection Protection and violation of the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Practices Act.
In a recent case filed in Duval County, Florida, an auto dealership refused to return a borrower’s personal belongings contained in the motor vehicle including work tools, essential identification and a daughter’s car seat, without payment of a $200.00 fee.
Consumers who are victims of demands for these illegal fees can experience severe economic and emotional consequences. Fortunately, the law provides consumers with expansive remedies for this illegal conduct.