Repo Madness Threatens Consumers

March 11, 2010

BOSTON, March 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Dozens of consumers, repossession agents and bystanders have been killed, injured or traumatized in self-help repossessions done under state laws that allow automobile dealers and lenders to take cars without court action or the involvement of law enforcement.

That is the key finding of a report issued today by the National Consumer Law Center, which compiles and analyzes existing state laws and regulations on automobile repossessions, and catalogues recent repossessions that resulted in violence, fatalities, injuries, arrests or trauma. In four of the incidents, repo agents took cars with children under the age of eight inside.

“Not a single state guarantees automobile owners a day in court before a repossession,” said John Van Alst, a lawyer for NCLC and principal author of the report. “Only a handful of states have even minimal consumer protections such as requiring that repo agents have licenses, bonds or insurance.”

Millions of working and poor families depend upon automobiles for survival and daily life. When they need cars and lack access to conventional financing, they turn to “buy here, pay here” dealers.” Those dealers too often rely on the threat of sudden and potentially violent repossessions to bully consumers into making payments.

That threat is real. Pistols, rifles, shotguns, knives, fists and automobiles are frequently wielded as weapons in confrontations arising out of self-help repossessions. Since Jan. 1, 2007, those confrontations have resulted in at least six deaths, dozens of injuries and arrests and uncounted traumas.

“What we have now is vigilante repossession run amok,” said Rosemary Shahan, President of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for consumer safety and against auto fraud and abuse. . “States need to adopt laws to rein in the violence, kidnapping, and lawlessness.”

The report calls for each state to enact laws that would require secured lenders to obtain court orders or at least provide consumers minimal due process prior to seizing automobiles. In addition, states should require that such repossessions, when authorized by courts, be done by sheriffs, police or other law enforcement officials.

The report also suggests measures that could reduce abuses and dangers in states that allow some self-help repossessions, including requirements that agents be better regulated, enhanced notice requirements and other steps to limit the arbitrary and harmful seizure of cars from consumers.

“In other areas of the law, such as evictions, self-help is generally no longer allowed in the interest of fairness and safety” said Van Alst. “Until we do the same thing in auto repossession, people will continue to be hurt and killed.”

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact John Van Alst or Rick Jurgens at 617-542-8010

SOURCE National Consumer Law Center

Source: newswire

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