|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Alison Ward in August 2018.|
A repairer is a person who puts money, labour or materials toward repairing someone’s personal property. A repairer has rights under the law to the property until the repair bill is paid.
- Repairer will not return client’s goods until the repairs are paid for.
- Repairer is threatening to repossess the repaired goods because client has not paid for the repairs.
- Repairer has repossessed client’s goods and is now threatening to sell the goods to cover the repair bill.
Summary of the law
In common law, a repairer is anyone who puts money, labour or materials toward repairing the chattels (personal, moveable possessions) of another person. Some common examples are car repair shops, jewellery shops, TV repair shops, and boat marinas.
The rights of repairers under common law
In common law, a repairer has a right to keep goods that have been repaired until the repair bill is paid. This right is an implied term of the repair contract (see the Contracts Overview section). The parties do not have to specifically agree to the term. However, the parties can specifically agree to vary the term, though this is not usual. For example, when the consumer first brings the goods in for repairs, the consumer and the repairer might agree that the consumer can pay the repair bill a month after the goods are returned. Or, the repairer and the consumer might agree to this after the repairs are finished. Without this specific agreement, the repairer has the right to demand full payment before the goods are returned to the consumer.
In common law, once the goods are returned to the consumer, the repairer no longer has possessory rights. This point is not relevant if the consumer pays the bill, but it is relevant if the parties agree that the consumer can take the goods and pay the repair bill later. If the consumer were later to default on the promise to pay the bill, the repairer only has a right to sue for the money owed. The repairer does not have any right to take the goods.
There is case law that says that the repairer does not lose a common-law possessory right if the goods are taken away from the repairer without the repairer’s permission, such as by trick or stealth. The repairer may be able to retake possession, so long as certain trespasses are not committed, such as by breaking into a house or garage (see the sections on Bailiffs, Court Bailiffs and Sheriffs and Collection Agents) and so long as there is not a breach of the peace that results in a Criminal Code charge.
In common law, the repairer also has the right to sell the goods, eventually, if the repair bill is not paid.
The rights of repairers under statute law
Repairers also have rights under statute law. The Repairers Lien Act gives repairers additional rights beyond the common law. Most importantly, the Act allows some repairers to retake possession of goods after releasing the goods to the consumer under certain conditions. This right applies to repairers of motor vehicles, aircraft, boats, and outboard motors.
There are two important steps that a repairer must take to gain a right to repossess:
- The consumer must sign an “acknowledgement of indebtedness” at the time the goods are released. A repairer cannot rely on a work order signed before the work is done for an acknowledgement of indebtedness.
- The repairer must file a “financing statement” in the Personal Property Registry within 21 days after possession is released to the consumer. The right to file is lost after 21 days.
Once the financing statement is filed, the repairer’s lien continues for another 180 days. The repairer’s lien rights cease to exist at the end of 180 days unless the chattel has been repossessed or the lien renewed. During those 180 days, the repairer is allowed to repossess the goods if the consumer has not paid the repair bill according to the terms agreed upon prior to release of the goods.
The Repairers Lien Act, in section 2, provides a procedure for the sale of goods held under a repairer’s lien. This procedure applies both to when the goods have not been released to the consumer and to when the goods have been released but repossessed from the consumer under the Repairers Lien Act statutory rights. The repairer is entitled to sell the goods to pay the repair bill if:
- the bill is unpaid for 90 days, and
- the sale is advertised for two weeks in a local newspaper.
The repairer can claim proceeds from the sale to cover the repair costs and, if there was a release and repossession, certain repossession costs.
If the goods are still in the possession of the repairer, confirm all the details of the repair agreement between the parties.
If the goods have been released to the consumer and the repairer is threatening to repossess the goods, confirm all the registration details through a search in the Personal Property Registry. It may be that the proper paperwork was not filed. Confirm the date the goods were released to the consumer to determine the 180-day repossession period.
If the goods have been released to the consumer but subsequently repossessed, confirm all registration details through a search in the Personal Property Registry. Confirm the date that the goods were released to the consumer and when the goods were repossessed. Confirm the location of the goods.
Solving the problem
Repairers’ liens usually arise because a consumer cannot pay the repair bill as agreed, or because the consumer is dissatisfied with the repair work. If the consumer cannot pay the repair bill as agreed, you should first attempt to negotiate with the repairer for release of the goods with time to pay. If the goods have been released and the repairer is threatening to repossess, you might still try this approach. In either instance, the consumer does not have much bargaining strength. The only realistic way to solve the problem may be for the consumer to somehow come up with the money to pay the bill.
If there is a dispute over the work done (for example, unauthorized repairs, work not done properly, or a bill higher than the estimate given), you may still first try to negotiate with the repairer (whether or not the goods have been released). Again, the consumer may not have much bargaining strength, particularly if the repairer possesses the goods. The practical remedy for the consumer may be to pay the bill, and then start a court action over the dispute.
It is possible for a consumer to have a cause of action against a repairer not only because of a dispute over the repairer’s bill, but also because the repairer (or agents of the repairer, such as a bailiff) attempted to enforce possessory rights in an improper fashion. There are many possibilities, and many examples in the case law. A consumer may have a cause of action for damages:
- if the goods are repossessed when the repairer did not have a validly filed lien
- if the goods are repossessed after 180 days
- if the goods are sold without meeting the sale requirements of the Repairers Lien Act
- if the goods are damaged during repossession
- if the bailiff or repairer trespasses (for example, breaks into a house or garage, or assaults the consumer) while repossessing the goods
Related topics and materials
See the other sections on buying services:
See related topics:
- Bailiffs, Court Bailiffs and Sheriffs
- Collection Agents
- Contracts Overview
- Enforcing Judgments Against Chattels
- Harassment by Debt Collectors
- Sale of Goods Law
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