Can the repo man refuse to return my personal belongings until I pay a convenience fee?

The repo agent can't demand that you pay a fee to get your personal items when repossessing your car.

Question

I fell behind on my car payments, so the bank repossessed the car. As the repo agent was hooking up my car to a tow truck, I tried to get my things out of the car, including my laptop and iPhone. But the repo guy refused to let me get my property unless I paid him $20 as a "convenience fee." Is that legal?

Answer

Probably not. While you might be liable for fees related to the repossession and auction of the car, a "convenience fee" is not one of them.

The Car Lender Doesn't Have a Legal Interest in Your Personal Property

You're legally entitled to your personal property. The car loan lender must return that property to you because it doesn't have a legal interest in it. The lender has an interest only in the car, which served as collateral as payment for the car loan. This obligation extends to the repo agent and anyone else the bank hired to repossess and store the car. The repo agent should have let you retrieve your personal property before towing the vehicle.

You Can't Get Back Fixtures to the Car

The only exception to this rule is if the property was attached in some way to the car. For example, say a sound system was installed in the car so that you'd need tools to remove it. Then you probably wouldn't have been able to take it back, anyway. That's because the sound system became a "fixture" to the car, and fixtures become part of the car that the bank can legally take and sell.

How to Get Your Personal Property Back After a Repo

If you haven't done so, call the creditor right away and make arrangements to get your items back. If it refuses, or if the items were lost or damaged during or after the repossession, then you might have a claim against the creditor for damages. You may also use that as a defense if the creditor later sues you for a deficiency judgment after the car repossession.

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