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Massachusetts Car Repossession Laws


Last Edited: 12/31/2011
  1. Have my rights been violated?
  2. So what if my rights were violated?
  3. Can my car be taken over my objection?
  4. Can the repo man come onto my property?
  5. What is a breach of the peace?
  6. Can you tell me more about the notices required by law?
  7. What happens after my car is taken? Can I get it back?

Important Note: We will evaluate your repossession case, but you must fill out the form found here.  Since this page has gone up, we've received quite a few calls about repossessions in Massachusetts, and this is how we are now streamlining the process.

Please do not call with car repossession questions.  We cannot help you get your car back. 


1. Have my Rights been Violated?

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.

 

2. So what if my rights were violated?

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.  

3. Can my car be taken over my objection?

 

See Breach of Peace below.

 

4. Can the repo man come onto my property?

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, or 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. Repossession companies are liable for statutory and actual damages under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act when they take a car they have no right to take. However, if you ultimately give up the keys, it makes for a stronger case if you gave them up because of threats.  Otherwise, in some circumstances, this could be interpreted as permission from you for the repo man to be on your property. 

5. What is a breach of the peace?

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 man, has the right to breach it.

A breach of the peace occurs when a repo man uses force or threats of force against people or property. A repo man 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.

6. Can you tell me more about the initial notice required by law?

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. 

7. What happens after my car is taken? Can I get it back?

After repossession, another key notice must be delivered to you giving you 20 days to pay off your car loan and the repossession expenses in full.  It is common for people not to be able to do this.  In those cases, the consumer can negotiate with the car lender, usually to bring the loan up-to-date and pay the expenses, to get the vehicle back.

 

You can contact us about a repossession by filing out this form.

 

 

 


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