Liens on Your Motor Vehicle

Disclaimer: The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide only general information on legal issues within the province of Alberta. The purpose is to make you aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer through our lawyer referral service line.

This topic discusses liens that can be placed against your vehicle if you do not pay for the repairs or services you authorized to have done. A lien will have two effects: the garage keeper can physically keep your vehicle in their garage, and or the garage keeper can register their lien against your vehicle which will prevent you from selling your vehicle.

A vehicle repair facility or garage keeper is entitled to keep your vehicle until you pay for its authorized repairs and service. If you did not authorize the repairs you are being charged for, you may be the victim of Unfair Trading, and you should contact the Consumer Contact Centre at 1-877-427-4088. You cannot remove the vehicle unless the bill is paid. The garage keeper cannot drive your vehicle or damage it when keeping the vehicle.

Because your vehicle takes up room in the garage, the garage keeper may release your vehicle if you acknowledge the debt by signing the invoice for repairs. The garage keeper can register a lien against your vehicle at the Personal Property Registry within 21 days of releasing the vehicle. You will receive a copy of the documents to confirm the registration of the lien unless you waived the right to receive the copies. The registration lasts for 6 months from the date it was filed. The lien can be renewed by Court Order for a further 6 months.

As soon as the lien is registered at the Personal Property Registry, the garage can start proceedings to collect the debt. The garage can have your vehicle seized and sold to pay for the debt. The seizure and sale must be done by a registered civil enforcement agency. You will be served with a Notice of the seizure. The Notice of Seizure may be served at the place where the vehicle is located with an adult member, or by leaving the notice posted in a conspicuous place. The Notice may also be posted on your door. You will have 15 days after service of the Notice to object to the seizure.

If you have valid reasons to object to the seizure and sale of your vehicle, you can file a Notice of Objection at the Court of Queen’s Bench. The reasons must be clear and valid (for instance, the vehicle is leased), otherwise the Notice will be disregarded. Also, the Notice of Objection must be served on the civil enforcement agency within 15 days after service of the Notice of Seizure. Once the Notice of Objection is filed and served properly, your vehicle cannot be sold or disposed of without a Court Order.

The vehicle will be sold after 15 days if there is no Notice of Objection served and filed. You will receive Notice of the method of sale at least 15 days before the actual sale. The money received from the sale of your vehicle will pay the costs of the sale first, and the debt of the garage keeper second. If there are other liens or encumbrances against your vehicle, any money left will pay those debts. Whatever money is left over from the payment of all liens is returned to you.

You can prevent the sale of your vehicle by paying the civil enforcement agency the amount of the debt before they sell your vehicle. Once the garage keeper is paid for the debt, the lien will be discharged from the Personal Property Registry and the vehicle will be returned to you. Once you have cleared the liens registered against your vehicle, do another search at the Personal Property Registry office to see if the liens are properly discharged. If the liens are not discharged, give a written demand to the garage keeper to discharge the registration. Serve the demand letter by leaving it with the garage keeper or sending it by registered mail. If the garage keeper does not discharge the registration, make an application to the Court of Queen’s Bench to confirm that the registration should be discharged. You must prove to the Court that the demand letter was properly served to the garage keeper. To avoid these complications, make your payment of the debt contingent on receiving a registered discharge of the lien.

The law dealing with liens can be complex and you are advised to seek legal counsel when you have concerns. You may also contact the Consumer Contact Centre at 1-877-427-4088.

Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by The Alberta Law Foundation.