If you have serviced a customer’s vehicle and have not been paid, you may have a lien. This type of lien is created by law and is properly called a garageman or repairman’s lien (often mistakenly called a mechanic’s lien). If you have done the following regarding the repair performed, you should have a garageman/repairman’s lien:
- Secured consent of the owner to perform work on the vehicle – it will be best if this consent is in writing;
- Performed the work;
- Remain in possession of the vehicle, remain in possession of the vehicle – to be clear – remain in possession of the vehicle; and
- Have not been paid.
All four criteria are required. Note that if you release the vehicle from your possession, your lien goes with it.
What this lien gives you is a priority. This means that if another party has a lien on the vehicle, even if it is the secured lender who financed the purchase, your garageman/repairman’s lien is ahead of that lien, meaning you get paid first. So, do not even release the vehicle to another lienholder trying to repossess the vehicle, unless that lienholder pays you what you are owed (and they will often do that).
To actually get paid for the services, you will need to take some additional affirmative steps. First, we recommend that a lien search be conducted on the vehicle. If you find that there is a recorded lienholder on the title, the first best step may be to contact the lienholder in writing and advise them of the debt you are owed and to notify them that you have a garageman/repairman’s lien, which is superior to their lien. This may result in the lienholder paying the debt you are owed or placing additional pressure on the vehicle owner to pay the debt.
If contact with the lienholder does not get you paid, your next best step is to file a civil complaint for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, and seek damages for the amount owed. For amounts up to $12,000, this can be done at the Magisterial District Court. For amounts larger than $12,000, you will need to file in County Court of Common Pleas. Remember, you are entitled to payment for valid storage fees and for your court filing fees and costs. If you are successful and secure a judgment for money damages, you will then proceed to have the judgment executed, meaning that the vehicle will be sold and you will get paid first (after the sheriff’s office) from the proceeds of the sale. If the vehicle sells for less than what you are owed, you will also have the option to pursue other assets of the customer to receive full payment. Note that a business entity is required to use an attorney for anything filed in the County Court of Common Pleas, which will be for amounts in excess of $12,000 and to execute on any judgment. Unless you have a contract with the customer that entitles you to attorney’s fees (and we rarely see that in the repair world), you will not be entitled for reimbursement for your attorney fees.