Can a repair shop get title to a car that was left on site and work is unpaid?
When a person who is not a landlord agrees to hold property for another, a bailment is created. When the person holding the property, called the bailee, is not being compensated, it is called a gratutous bailment and the bailee must use reasonable care to protect the property.
There are different types of bailments- "bailments for hire" in which the custodian (bailee) is paid, "constructive bailment" when the circumstances create an obligation upon the custodian to protect the goods, and "gratuitous bailment" in which there is no payment, but the bailee is still responsible. There is a lower standard of care imposed upon the bailee in a gratuitous bailment, and the parties may contract to hold the bailee free from liability in any bailment. As the law of bailments establishes a lower standard of care for the bailee in a gratuitous bailment agreement, such an agreement or receipt should indicate explicitly that the bailee is acting without compensation. When a bailment is for the exclusive benefit of the bailee, the bailee owes a duty of extraordinary care. If the bailment is for the mutual benefit of the bailee and bailor, the bailee owes a duty of ordinary care. A gratuitous bailee must use only slight care and is liable only for gross negligence. To create a bailment, the alleged bailee must have actual physical control with the intent to possess. Physical control and intent to possess will be interpreted according to the expectations of the parties. If a court thinks that liability would be unexpected or unfair, it can usually find that the defendant did not have “physical control” or “intent to possess.” For example, courts are more likely to find a bailment of a car exists in a garage with an attendant than in a park and lock garage.
In order to dispose of abandoned property, notice must be served on the property owner so he has an opportunity to respond to the claim. Such notices typically require the owner to pay amounts due by a stated date and advised that the property may be sold if payment isn't received by such date. I suggest calling the local police department, as requirements for notices of abandoned property vary by local area.
However, it may also be possible to obtain a lien on the vehicle.
According to Pennsylvania law, any person who repairs, provides materials for, tows, or stores an item of personal property, including motor vehicle, at the request of the owner has a lien dependent on possession, on the property, for the cost of labor and materials provided, Pennsylvania Statutes 6 P.S. §11.
This lien is subordinate to a prior perfected lien. The garage keeper may achieve priority of lien by giving notice of intent to claim a lien to the holder of a prior perfected lien. This notice must be personally served or sent by certified mail. If the holder of the prior lien does not redeem the vehicle by paying the amount of lien, the garage keeper's lien is given priority.
If the charges due are not paid, the garage keeper may foreclose the lien by selling the vehicle. While the garage keeper is in possession of the vehicle, he is required to send notice to the registered and legal owners of the vehicle stating that payment is due. The notice must include an itemized statement setting forth the work done and the material furnished. The notice must also be published in the newspaper for two consecutive weeks and posted in six public places in the vicinity of where the vehicle is located.
If the charges due are not paid within 30 days of the notice, the garage keeper may foreclose the lien by selling the vehicle at public auction by giving ten days notice thereof in the same manner as personal property is sold by sheriff or constable, Pennsylvania Statutes §§ 6-11, 6-12, 6-15. There are no apparent monetary limitations on the amount of the lien.
Governed by the Uniform Commercial Code and the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Sales Finance Act (MVSFA), a creditor is entitled to take possession of a vehicle without judicial process if it can be done without a breach of the peace. The creditor must hold the vehicle in the county where it was retaken for 15 days, and must give consumer a written "Notice of Repossession" as soon as the vehicle has been repossessed, 69 P.S. Sec 601 et seq. Upon repossession, the creditor may sell or dispose of the vehicle in any commercially reasonable manner. Sale of the vehicle may be by public or private proceeding. The creditor is required to give the borrower reasonable notification of the time and place of the sale. Notice must be sent by certified or registered mail. Although "reasonable notification" is not defined, the better practice is to give 15 days to comply with both the U.C.C. and the MVSFA. The creditor may purchase the vehicle at any public or private sale. The proceeds of the sale or other disposition must be applied, in order, to: the reasonable expense of retaking the vehicle, cost of the sale, reasonable attorney's fees, satisfaction of the loan, and the satisfaction of any other subordinate security interest in the vehicle, if the creditor receives written notice of any such subordinate interest before distribution of the proceeds is completed. After the sale or other disposition, the creditor is liable to the borrower for any surplus proceeds. The borrower is generally liable to the creditor for any deficiency if the contract so provides. If the borrower has paid less that 60% of the loan, the creditor may propose to keep the vehicle in full satisfaction of the debt by sending a written notice to the borrower. However, if the creditor receives a written objection to retention within 21 days, or if the borrower has paid 60% or more of the loan, the vehicle must be sold within 90 days of the repossession. The borrower is entitled to redeem the vehicle within 15 days after repossession, 69 P.S. 601 et seq. To redeem the vehicle, the borrower must pay the full balance due pursuant to the contract. If the contract contains a clause accelerating the entire balance on default, the accelerated balance must be tendered. In addition to tendering the balance due under the contract, the borrower must pay the reasonable expense the creditor incurred in repossessing the vehicle, holding it, preparing if for sale, and to the extent provided in the contract and not prohibited by law, reasonable attorney's fees and legal expenses, Pennsylvania Statutes §§ 13-504, 13-506, and 69 P.S. 625 (B)]