Massachusetts Car Repossession Laws
Last Edited: 12/31/2011
Common Questions about Repossession in Massachusetts.
Can I get my car back?
Should I get your car back?
Have my rights been violated?
So what if my rights were violated?
Can my car be taken over my objection?
Can the repo man come onto my property?
What is a breach of the peace?
Can you tell me more about the notices required by law?
Important Note: We will evaluate your repossession case, but you must fill
out the form found here.
We receive quite a few inquiries about
repossession, and this is how we streamline the
There are four options after your car gets repossessed. A car lender only
must keep a car for 20 days after repossession, so you need to plan your
strategy somewhat queickly.
1. Pay missed payments to car
Once your car is repossessed, the lender can demand that you pay the entire loan
to get the car back. Most lenders, however, will let a person just pay the
back amount ("arrears") and repo charges to get the car back. However,
many lenders have a policy of not allowing this--and demanding the whole loan
balance--when there have been multiple repossessions. If you have not had
multiple repossessions, you can usually just call the lender, arrange to pay the
arrears, and get the car back.
2. Pay whole loan to car lender.
If the lender is demanding the entire loan to give the car back, you face some
stark choices. If you have the money, you can pay the entire loan, get the
title, and wipe your hands of the lender completely. Most people do not
have the amount of money to pay off their car loan on short notice in full, so
they explore other options.
3. File Chapter 13 to get car
back (and possibly "cram down" car loan)
Chapter 13 bankruptcy is the only way to force a lender demanding an entire car
loan be paid to take payments over time. We have handled filed Chapter 13
bankruptcies to get cars back and ease other debt problems for years. It
works well. However, attorneys fees and costs must be paid quickly so that
the case can be filed within the 20-day period after repossession. That
usually amounts to less than $2,000, which is a lot better than paying most
loans off in full. However, it is still difficult for many people.
In Chapter 13, some car loans can also be "crammed down," which involves paying
off the car--at a lower amount--through the court. This right only applies
to cars purchased two and half years (910 days) before a bankruptcy.
If you would like, you may also submit a bankruptcy consultation form here.
4. Let car go.
As discussed immediately below, sometimes it makes more sense to just let the
Sometimes it can be a smart financial decision to let a car go, but this doesn't
come without consequences.
If you are paying a high interest rate for a deeply-under-water car, it often
makes sense to just let it go.
Car lenders must apply the fair market value of the vehicle to your loan
account. If the difference, after fees and charges, is less than $2,000
the lender cannot pursue you for the remaining loan balance. However, many
repo deficiencies are larger and car lenders sue to collect these claims.
People typically either negotiate these debts or file Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy
to get discharged from the debt.
As discussed below, there also are some circumstances in which repossession
notices are illegal and can defeat the debt. We specialize in spotting
Maybe. There are two main ways we see
in which rights are typically violated during repossession. First, you may have not
received the required 21-day written notice called "Rights of Defaulting Buyer
under the Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Installment Sales Act" before your car was
seized. Second, the repossession company may have breached the peace in the
course of the repossession. Breaching the peace can mean threats, coercion, and
other oppressive acts committed during a repossession.
Also, a car lender may not enter onto property owned or leased by a person to
repossess a vehicle without the person's permission. This is a commonly violated
law in Massachusetts.
This is a really good question. Laws only have
meaning when people enforce them. The criminal laws are enforced by
the police and prosecutor's office, but individuals have to enforce their own rights under civil law.
The repossession laws I am writing about are civil laws. Enforcing rights under civil law
tends to be expensive. However, some of the laws related to car repossession provide an outstanding benefit:
They allow your attorney to get paid from the defendant. This is called fee-shifting and is an exception
to the rule that each side pays their own legal fees.
So, what do you have to gain if you seek to enforce your rights? First, if your rights have been violated, you can get
up to $1,000 in statutory damages along with whatever actual damages you incurred, which usually include the amounts you paid out of pocket for repo, towing, and storage
charges. These damages can, under some circumstances, also include compensation for emotional distress.
See Breach of Peace below.
If a repo company enters onto your property without obtaining your permission
when they enter, the repossession is unlawful. Massachusetts has a special law on this topic.
In most states, a repo man can come onto someone's property (like a driveway) without permission and take
a car, but not here.
A repossession company needs to get your permission at the same time they come onto the property that you own or rent.
This includes a driveway or open (and, of course, closed) garage. However, there has never been a case
in Massachusetts deciding exactly what this special law means. Do they have to call ahead of time?
Can they come onto your driveway, knock on your door, and then get your permission?
No court has decided.
This is significant because most repos happen in the following way: The repo man comes on your property, tells you he is taking your car
but that it will be much easier if you just give him the keys. The reason why it will be "easier"
if you comply is the interesting part.
Sometimes the repo man will say that towing the car would damage it, cost more, cause a commotion, or that he will call the police if you
refuse to hand over the keys. All of these threats are illegal because they all
coerce your compliance, and if they are
communicated over your objection, they also breach the peace.
However, even when words and actions do not rise to the level of
a breach of the peace, your lack of affirmative permission for the repo company to be on your property makes the repo illegal.
However, if you ultimately give up the keys,
it makes for a stronger case if you gave them up because of specific threats.
Otherwise, in some circumstances, this could be interpreted as permission from
you for the repo man to be on your property.
No repo company, here in Massachusetts or elsewhere, has the right to breach the peace in the course of a repossession.
The reason for this is very ancient. The public peace belongs to society and its government (formerly the king) and no private person,
including a repo agent, has the right to breach it.
A breach of the peace occurs when a repo agent uses force or
threats of force against people or property. A repo agent also breaches the peace if he presses on with a
repossession attempt after you object. The
reason for this is that proceeding over an objection has the tendency to lead to violence.
Despite this, this often
exactly what happens: a repo attempt proceeds over a mild and confused
objection. The devil is in the details when it comes to whether this is a
breach of the peace. Whether something rises to the level of a breach of the peace usually depends on what
acts or threats were involved and how "bad" it all seems in a common sense sort of way.
If a breach of the peace occurred you are entitled to an amount NOT LESS than the finance charge for the car loan
plus 10 percent of the principal amount. This can be a large amount of money, so free free to give us a call to discuss it
if you think a repo man may have breached the peace in the course of
repossessing your vehicle.
You are entitled to receive the notice called "Rights of Defaulting Buyer under
the Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Installment Sales Act" 21 days before a
repossession attempt. However, you are must receive this three times
during a car loan. If you've been behind several times during the life of
your car loan, it is possible that you have received this notice along with your
bill three times already before a repossession.
You can contact us about a repossession by filing out