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When the repo men come knocking

"You watch way too much TV," chides Scott Ewart when I tell him that much of my knowledge about the repossession business comes from the partly scripted reality show, "Operation Repo." The show follows Luis Pazzaro and his family of bailiffs in Southern California. Almost every repo involves a physical confrontation or another bizarre shenanigan. Often, a gun is pulled and the cops are called.

After every episode, viewers inundate Internet message boards and forums with questions such as, "Can they do that? Isn't that illegal? Don't they have to show I.D.?"

Well, after 25 years in the business, the London, Ont.-based bailiff knows what the real story is. Ewart says seven out of 10 repossession orders go smoothly. And the other three times?

"I got run over once," Ewart says. But don't worry: If you forgo payment to a creditor, you can avoid berserk rage by knowing what's in store for you when the repo men come knocking.

Straight shooter
When Ewart and any of his seven assistant bailiffs come to the door, everything is incredibly straightforward. "We go up to the door, identify ourselves, tell them exactly what we're there for, why we're there and what we're going to do."

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Every debtor gets a copy of a bailiff's warrant and any supporting documentation that the creditor wants delivered. That could be a copy of the Personal Property and Security Act (PPSA) registration notifying the debtor of a lien against the property, or, if it's a leased vehicle, a copy of the ownership documentation naming the finance company. The warrant itself includes a statement of account, which shows the amount in arrears and whether the vehicle will be seized for the total balance payment or just the arrears.

When debtors tell the "Operation Repo" crew they can pay up now, the answer is always, "Contact your finance company and we'll bring it back in the morning." But in Canada, paying the bailiff is generally an option at the discretion of the creditor. "We know ahead of time because our client has given us instructions whether to take the arrears amount plus costs, or to take the property if they want immediate payout," Ewart says.

Just don't try damaging the property. You risk a visit from the cops plus a lawsuit for all deficiency balances.

Conflict management
The potential for conflict starts long before Ewart and his team hit the front steps. "It all depends on the relationship established between the debtor and the creditor," he says. "We know when there's going to be a conflict right away, based on an acrimonious relationship." For example, if the creditor has had to repossess the same car twice from the same guy. In those cases, there's no courtesy knock. Ewart's team simply hooks up the car and tows it away.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted Sept. 24, 2010
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