Repossession does not necessarily end liability

Repossession does not necessarily end liability

Q. My car was repossessed. Now, a year later, I received a notice from a debt collector that I still owe $6,000. How can this be? They have the car, shouldn’t that be the end of the matter?

A. When a car is repossessed, the lender has two options. First, it may keep the car and cancel the debt. In most cases, however, it chooses the second option, which is to sell the car, apply the proceeds to the amount of the debt, and then collect the difference, or “deficiency,” from the debtor. For example, suppose you owe $15,000 on your car note and the car is repossessed and sold for $10,000. You would still owe $5,000 plus the costs of the repossession and sale. It sounds like your car was sold and there was a balance remaining after the proceeds were applied to your debt. I suggest you start by asking for an accounting that shows how much you owed at the time of the repossession, when the car was sold, how the sale was conducted, what the costs were, and how much was obtained at the sale.


Q. I have a couple of trees in my front yard that have been on my property for many years. The trees are very tall and have large branches that lean over my next-door neighbor’s driveway and front yard. When there is a storm, branches and limbs are often blown into the neighbors’ yard. The neighbor feels I should be responsible for cleaning her yard because the trees are on my property. I told her that I am not liable for removing debris from her yard because I did not cause the branches to fall on her property. I also told her if there is any damage to her house or car, she should file on her insurance. Please explain my legal rights.

A. In my opinion, you own the tree and if large pieces of it fall on the neighbor’s property, you are responsible for removing them. It doesn’t matter how they got there. For example, if someone came by one night and put your backyard furniture in the neighbor’s yard, you would have to remove it. In my opinion, the same rule applies to your tree branches.

As far as damage to his property, you are responsible for damage caused by the branches only if you were negligent. If the wind blows down a healthy branch you probably have no liability simply because it was your tree. On the other hand, if you know there are dead or weak branches and they will blow down in a high wind, you have a duty to prune them or take steps to prevent them from damaging your neighbor’s property. If you don’t act reasonably and cut the dead branches and they blow down into his car, my opinion is you are responsible for the damage. Based on what you say, it sounds like you know of a problem with your tree. The law imposes a duty upon you to take steps to correct it and avoid damage to your neighbor’s property.


Q. I signed a lease with a landlord, got the keys to the door and mailbox, and the security card to the gate. The next morning, the assistant manger who signed the lease calls and states she can no longer lease to me. I told her, “Surprise, you already have.” Isn’t this a binding lease? She stated that there was a felony in my record. I feel the landlord did not perform due diligence prior to signing the lease and that is her problem.

A. You are correct that as a general rule, once the landlord and tenant sign a lease it is binding and may not be changed by one without the consent of the other. The exception to this rule is when the lease has a specific provision that allows one party to act unilaterally. I suggest you carefully read your lease and see if it says anything that applies to your situation. If you don’t see anything, ask your landlord to point out what provision of the lease allows her to terminate it.


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