March 6, 2015
by Benjamin C. Struby
Millsap & Singer, LLC – USFN Member (Missouri)
Pick a scenario: You have just obtained title to a property through foreclosure and your property preservation company has reported back to you that the property is vacant, save a motorcycle in the driveway; or, the former owner of the property that is boarded in your REO inventory used a barn on the acreage as a boat repair shop and, in his haste to vacate, left two boats on the land; or, your local real estate agent visited a newly acquired property to deliver a cash-for-keys offer, only to find the property vacant of people and personal property, except that a car is parked in the front yard.
If you work with post-foreclosure properties, whether in an REO department or on a conveyance team, chances are that you have been faced with one of the above scenarios — or at least something similar. What can be done to remove the car/boat/motorcycle (or any other kind of motor vehicle) from the property? To start, be resigned to the fact that you may need to have an eviction performed. Missouri, like many other states, is considered a “must-evict” state, where an eviction should be performed if personal property remains after foreclosure.
It certainly can be a frustrating proposition to have to wait on the eviction process to run its course, so it is best to explore other avenues that might allow you to bypass a full eviction. If the agent can locate the former occupant, a simple visit to the new residence to encourage voluntary removal will often suffice. If the former occupant cannot be located, or can be found but refuses to remove the vehicle, then you may be able to go another route: contact the local sheriff’s department.
Missouri Statute Section 304.157 provides that a motor vehicle (defined as “motor vehicle, trailer, all-terrain vehicle, outboard motor or vessel”) that is abandoned on private property may be removed by the sheriff’s department. Accordingly, if all that remains at the property is a motor vehicle, instruct your local agent to make contact with the sheriff’s department to inquire into these services. By doing so, perhaps you can avoid the sometimes-lengthy eviction process.
Unfortunately, the above-referenced statute does not guarantee that the authorities will remove the vehicle, as the statute uses “may” remove instead of “shall” remove, thus making the removal a discretionary act of the sheriff’s department. In practice, you will find that some counties will agree to remove the vehicle under the authorization that the statues provide, while others respond that an eviction must be completed.
If the sheriff’s department declines your request to remove the vehicle, then fall back to an actual eviction suit. From a timeline standpoint, the eviction action should be started right away to ensure that no time is lost while the sheriff’s department is contacted. After judgment and at lockout, any motor vehicle can be towed and left at the nearest public road for removal by the sheriff’s department under Missouri Statute Section 304.155.
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