If you've fallen behind on your car payments, you've probably started getting phone calls from the bank about a repossession. The good news is, the repo man can't legally enter a locked gate or garage without your permission. But, a repo agent may legally enter your yard, driveway, or other private property if nothing is blocking their access. Keep reading to learn more.
If you suspect that your car is in danger of being repossessed, you’ll likely try whatever you can to prevent the repossession, including hiding the car in the garage or back yard. The good news is that a repo man usually can’t enter a locked gate or garage to access your vehicle. The bad news is that there are plenty of other options available to both the repo agency and your auto lender. Fortunately, you also have options to stop the repossession. Read on for more details.
Locked Gates Are Off-Limits
Though laws vary by state, in most situations, a repo man can’t legally enter a locked gate or other locked property to access a vehicle unless he has permission from the property owner. This means that a repo man can’t repossess your car if it’s inside a closed garage, fully enclosed fence, or other completely closed-off, private area. In most states, using physical force to cut a lock or chain or otherwise damaging property is considered a breach of the peace. Repo men are not allowed to do anything that counts as trespassing or breaching the peace to get to your vehicle.
What Repo Men Can Do Legally
Although the repossession laws generally block repossession agents from taking certain actions, they still have plenty of legal opportunities to repossess your vehicle. For example, a repo agent may legally enter your yard, driveway, or other private property if nothing is blocking their access. If you drive your car to work, a grocery store, or any other publicly accessible destination, it could be repossessed.
Also, even though a repossession agent can’t enter a locked fence or closed garage, in most cases, they may legally enter an unlocked gate or even an open garage. Depending on your circumstances, attempting to hide your car all the time could become exhausting. Worse, if your car ends up getting repossessed, the creditor will usually add the cost of the repossession agency’s extra time onto your loan balance, leaving you with a deficit to pay even after the repo action.
The Creditor Still Has a Right of Replevin
Repossession is one of the most popular and effective collection actions auto loan companies use. In some states, the company can begin repo efforts if you miss even one payment. Some states don’t require the lender to give a borrower prior notice of the vehicle repossession. That said, even if you’re able to successfully dodge repossession, the creditor still has other options to get your car back.
If repossessing your car isn’t successful, your auto creditor can file a legal action, called a replevin suit, and get a judge to order you to hand over the car. If you don’t obey the court order, the judge could find you in contempt of court, which could result in fines, more fees, or even criminal penalties like jail time.
The judge can also award the lender a money judgment against you for the balance due, plus all the costs and attorney fees from the lawsuit, and the costs of any unsuccessful repossession attempts. The car loan company can then use this judgment to garnish your wages or bank account.
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Using Bankruptcy To Protect Your Car
Repossession is an effective collections tool, but hiding your car indefinitely is not your only option to protect and keep your vehicle. If your car is in danger of being repossessed, filing for bankruptcy will stop the repossession.
The Automatic Stay
One of the most important and most valuable provisions of the Bankruptcy Code is a section known as the “automatic stay.” This section says that once a person files a bankruptcy case, all collection actions — including repossession, replevin, and even collection letters and phone calls — must stop immediately.
In almost all bankruptcy cases, the automatic stay is effective at the moment the case is filed. The only exceptions are:
If you have already filed bankruptcy two or more times within the past year, the automatic stay does not go into immediate effect. Usually, you can still file a motion to activate the automatic stay as long as you have not intentionally tried to defraud your creditors or acted in bad faith in your previous cases.
If you have already filed bankruptcy once before during the past year, the automatic stay still takes effect immediately, but in this case, it’s only effective for 30 days, and then collection efforts can begin again. Most people can still file a motion within the 30-day period to extend the automatic stay for the rest of the bankruptcy, so long as your bankruptcy was filed in good faith.
Keeping Your Car After Filing for Bankruptcy
A common misconception about bankruptcy is that you can’t keep your house, car, or other property once you file a bankruptcy petition. In reality, most people who file for bankruptcy can keep most of the property that they want to keep. Your ability to keep your car after filing for bankruptcy depends on how much you owe on the car and whether you can afford to keep it. It also depends on what type of bankruptcy you’re filing and whether you’re able to make your car payments.
If you’re considering bankruptcy, but are worried that you can’t afford a bankruptcy lawyer, Upsolve’s free web tool might be able to help. Try our screener to see if you’re able to file for bankruptcy on your own using the Upsolve tool.
The good news is that a repo man ordinarily can’t legally enter a fence with a locked gate, or a closed or locked garage, or any other entry that requires damaging property or breaching the peace. The bad news is that a repo man usually can legally enter your driveway or unenclosed yard and can also repossess your car from any other accessible place, such as the parking lot at your job.
If you haven’t been making your car payments, your auto loan lender has several options to get the car back. Depending on your situation, you may be able to use the automatic stay provision of the Bankruptcy Code to stop the car repossession, at least temporarily. Working with a bankruptcy attorney can help you find the best course of action to pay off your car and protect it from repossession.