Thursday, October 26, 2006

Seize or Sue

I pause for a moment and then type the final sentence of my letter. “Accordingly, we consider this matter concluded, and trust that Ms. Wong will not be contacted again.”

That’s lawyer talk for “get lost.”

Yesterday Linda Wong contacted us because some lawyer, from Ontario of all places, had sent her a letter about a car loan. It seems that in happier times Linda and her husband, Randy, went to a car dealership in Victoria and purchased a big shiny SUV which they could just barely afford, thanks to vendor financing. They signed a “Conditional Sales Agreement” which was filed against the vehicle in the provincial government’s Personal Property Registry.

Then, about six months ago Linda and Randy separated, and found that they could no longer afford the payments. Linda took the bull by the horns and contacted the dealership to explain the situation, and by agreement the dealership repossessed the vehicle. Linda and Randy weren’t happy about it, but they were nonetheless relieved to the matter put behind them.

So or they thought. A few days ago, Linda got a letter from “Mr. Ronald Jaggers, Esq.,” a lawyer from Toronto, telling her that after the SUV was resold and various fees and penalties were taken into account, there was $15,000 still owing on the purchase agreement. Mr. Jaggers’ letter went on to threaten to file a lawsuit unless “satisfactory arrangements for payment” were made within 14 days.

This sent Linda into overdrive. She had been assured by the dealership that everything was resolved and she and Randy could walk away from the deal. Intimidated by the fact that there was a lawyer now involved, she figured she’d better get some legal advice before responding to the letter, so she went to the legal aid website where she found our number.

In our phone conversation, I confirmed with Linda that this was indeed a purchase agreement, not a leasing arrangement, and asked her to fax us a copy of it, along with a copy of Mr. Jaggers’ letter. After reviewing these, I phoned her back, and explained to her that the part of the problem here may be the fact that Mr. Jaggers does not understand BC law.

In BC, a seller who repossesses a vehicle because the buyer doesn’t make the payments cannot also sue the buyer for any balance owing under the purchase agreement. The seller can either repossess the vehicle or let the purchaser keep the vehicle and sue him or her for payment. In other words, the seller must “seize or sue.” Maybe in Ontario things are different. But the dealership took the vehicle, and that’s the end of the matter.

Linda gratefully accepted my offer to write to Mr. Jaggers to explain all this, so I did, and that should be the end of the matter.

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