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Ask the County Law Librarian — Can a Former Car Owner be Liable for Towing and Storage Charges?

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Q. Recently, I received a “Notice of Pending Lien Sale for Vehicle Valued $4,000 or Less,” on a vehicle that I owned at one time and traded in to a car dealership 1½ years ago. I am listed as an Interested Party on this vehicle, which is currently accruing storage charges at a tow yard. There is a registered owner on the notice (who I don’t know), and the DMV is listed as the Legal Owner. I assume I’m an interested party just because of the ownership history of the vehicle, and not because I would be responsible for any storage and towing charges, correct? Pat

A. Hi Pat,

When a vehicle is sold via a lien sale, the seller has to notify the owner and “all interested parties.” California Civil Code Section 3072. Owners identified from incomplete transfers are included as interested parties. If you are showing up as an “interested party,” it means that something about your transfer of ownership (the trade-in) was not completely documented with the DMV, and you are still showing up in some capacity on the vehicle’s records.

An “interested party” has the right to object to the sale. This allows a person who has a competing interest in the vehicle, such as an earlier lien or a claim of ownership, to have a court determine who is entitled to the vehicle or proceeds of sale. From what you mentioned, you probably do not have a competing interest, but the lienholder is required to notify you since you show up on the record.

Here is some more information on lien sales from the DMV: How To Conduct a Lien Sale for a Vehicle Valued at $4,000 or Less HTVR7.

You should not be liable for any charges associated with the vehicle as long as you made “proper endorsement and delivery of the certificate of ownership,” – that is, that you signed off on the title. Cal. Vehicle Code 5602(a). However, if the buyer never submitted the paperwork to transfer the title into his or her name, your name will still be on the record.

If you filed a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability, you should be in the clear. Cal. Vehicle Code 5602(b)(1).  The Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability lets the DMV know you are no longer responsible, even if your name still shows on the record due to incomplete transfer information. The dealership may have offered to submit this form for you, which is perfectly legal, but if they didn’t follow through, you may still be listed as responsible.

You can find out if a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability is on record for you by downloading and mailing in a Request for Record Information (INF 70).

Here is some additional information about the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability from the DMV: Notice of Release of Liability. This page includes a link to download the form or submit it electronically.

I hope this helps. Thank you for your question!

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian
www.saclaw.org

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