Can my former landlord hold my car hostage?

UPDATED: Jun 12, 2011

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Can my former landlord hold my car hostage?

I’m 18 years old and my father recently moved out of the country. He apparently wrote the landlord a bad check. My car was left in the garage of our old home. I was away on business and thought I could retrieve my car when I returned. The landlord found out about the bad check, (obviously) and is now holding my car hostage until he gets paid. He locked the garage doors and changed the locks with my car still inside. Will I be able to retrieve my car with police assistance?

Asked on June 12, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Iowa


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

You should be able to retrieve your car--and the police should be willing to help. There's a word for what you landlord is doing: theft. He has no right to hold your car, unless it's the case that the car's owner (either you or your father; whomever had title) specifically gave the landlord a right to the car as collateral or security for a debt. However, unless that was done, the landlord may not take or keep your car; also, he has no cause of action whatsoever against you if you were not on the lease, and no grounds to take any action against your father. If your father was the one on the lease, then the landlord's only option is to try to sue your father for the money (which is obviously problematic if your father is no out of the country).

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