Thursday, January 21, 2010

As Sweetie says: "Replevins! Fun!" (But I think she's being sarcastic.)

If someone says they're going to replevin your car, your first response would likely be to say "That sounds painful. Or gross. Or both."

Your second response should be to call a lawyer, who will explain to you that replevin is a fancy-lawyer-term for repossession. At which point your third response might be to say "What? No way! Nobody's replevining anything around here."

But you might want to let them go ahead and replevin your car if you live in Wisconsin and if you're lucky enough to have a creditor that doesn't know what they're doing.

Repossessing cars in Wisconsin used to require that creditors go to court, each and every time. Miss a payment or two, and they'd file a suit, take your car, sell it, and sue you for the balance of what was still owed.

Then, a while back, the legislature decided that going to small claims court was a little too tough for giant lenders and car retailers. So they made it easier by modifying the law. The new law, which has been in effect for a couple of years, lets a creditor take your car by writing you a letter and saying that they're going to take your car. Then they come take it... unless you act first.

A creditor who wants to take your car back from you, in Wisconsin, can't do so without first writing you a letter, and that letter must contain certain information. It has to have the name, address, and phone number of the merchant taking the car, and a "brief description" of the car itself. It has to say that the creditor "may have the right to take possession" of your car without further notice or court proceeding.

And then, it has to tell you that if you think they're wrong, if you think you're not in default or if you just want them to go to court to take the car, then you have to demand that they go to court.

You get fifteen days from the letter to make that demand, in writing -- and the creditor has to tell you that, too.

If you don't make that demand, the creditor can come take your car. If you do demand they proceed in court, they have to go to court and prove that you're in default. (If you make them go to court, they can ask for attorney's fees, though, so you'll have to think, with the help of your lawyer, whether you want to make them go to court.)

What's interesting, though, is what happens if the creditor wrongfully takes your car -- if they don't give you that letter, or if the letter doesn't have all the information required by law, then a creditor who takes your car illegally might find themselves in a big hole, because that's a "nonjudicial" replevin, and a "nonjudicial" replevin in Wisconsin, if not done properly, can reward the consumer in a big way.

If a creditor wrongfully takes your car, for example, by not giving you the proper letter notice, then, if you contact a lawyer like me and sue them, you could find yourself getting the car back, getting a court order that you don't owe the creditor any more money, and getting all the money back that you've paid so far.

Plus attorney's fees.

That's a free car -- awarded to you by a court in which you're represented by a free lawyer. And you'd get it all because a creditor didn't bother to replevin your car correctly.

So remember: If someone wants to replevin your car, contact a lawyer and see what they can do. Maybe they can't do anything -- but maybe they can get you a free car.


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