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Michigan state law says couple’s car impounded over niece’s debt is legal

Posted at 5:00 PM, Sep 26, 2014

VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. -- A couple from West Michigan lost their car over an unpaid debt they claim wasn't even theirs to pay. The couple claims there's no way the car should have been taken, but Michigan law says otherwise. Verlin and Linda Hunt loaned their car to their niece so she could get to and from work.

“Any of our family can come to us, and we will go without so that they can have whatever they need,” said Linda Hunt.

They loaned their niece a Chevy Cobalt to get to and from work, that now ended up in the impound lot of Viper Security. A business that contracts with Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office, and is in charge of investigating and enforcing property possession for small claims. The family was in court today to try to reclaim their car.

“Basically the judge said it was legal if you loan a car out you can only loan it out for thirty days. After thirty days they consider that it’s that person`s car,” said Hunt.

The reason it was taken in the first place is because their niece didn’t pay her furniture bill for $3200 for nearly three years, missing multiple payments. Country House Furniture says they tried to negotiate with her on multiple occasions, and even worked out a deal to take garnishments. The Hunts say she eventually stopped the garnishments from being taken from her check. Then Country House Furniture says they had no choice, but to file a small claims suit with the district court.

Linda showed documentation showing she made all the payments on the car, owned the title, and license plates, but that didn`t seem to matter much at all in court today when they tried to get the car back.

“I didn`t even think that was legal. I never heard the law before,” she said.

Country House Furniture says it isn’t the first time they had to file a claim like this, and they don’t like doing it.

“We do have a high risk financing for people who can`t get financing anywhere else. We will take them on. Unfortunately there are a lot of times there are people who don`t want to pay and then what happens we have to go into the collection process,” said Cook.

Brandon Cook has been working for Country House Furniture for 15 years. He says he tried to negotiate with the Hunt’s niece several times.

“You can’t just let people take furniture without paying for it or else no one is going to pay for it,” said Cook.

Viper Security ended up taking the niece`s car that didn`t belong to her in the first place, because Michigan State law says that’s within their rights. Now the Hunts are out a lot of money.

When Fox 17 News asked Cook if he thought the outcome was fair, he took a moment to think about his answer.

“It’s a tough call, because you hear about people that will have vehicles put in someone else’s name because they can’t get financing, or they owe other people, and by doing that they can’t get collected on,” said Cook.

Country House Furniture says they feel terrible for the Hunts, but their hands are tied.

“I do feel really bad for Mr. and Mrs. Hunt. They are great people. I didn`t ask for this against them it’s just that`s what the law is,” said Cook.

It’s up to the Hunt’s niece to work out a payment plan with Viper Security. Linda and Verlin said they are staying out of this process. Verlin Hunt says that after the court fees, impound fees, lien payments, and furniture payments, it will add up to much more than the car is worth. The Hunts say Viper Security told them that if they cannot come up with an agreement with Viper Security and make the payments the will be put up for auction.