Getting out of a vehicle lease in a Chapter 7 case requires simply that you formally state that you “reject” it. Then you owe nothing more.
Last week we showed how a vehicle lease can be unexpectedly expensive, and that you can escape through Chapter 7. Today we show you how.
The Option of “Rejecting” the Lease
When you file bankruptcy you get to choose whether or not to keep your leased vehicle. Specifically you choose to either “assume” or “reject” the lease. Assuming the lease means keeping the vehicle and continuing to be legally bound by all the terms of the lease. Rejecting the lease means letting the vehicle go. This allows you to “discharge”—forever write off—all of your financial obligations on the lease. (See Section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code generally about the assumption and rejection of unexpired leases. Warning: it’s very complicated and confusing!)
Rejecting a car or truck lease can be a good idea in various situations. As we discussed last week leases come with a number of hidden costs and financial risks.
If you can’t make the lease payments and surrender the vehicle, you will most likely owe a lot of money. Or if you’re nearing the end of your lease and the vehicle has high mileage or unusual wear and tear, you can also owe a lot. Rejecting your vehicle lease in bankruptcy at any point in the lease gets you out of it without having to pay anything more on it.
Giving Notice of Lease Rejection
To reject the lease, you simply state your intention to do so. You do that in the Chapter 7 documents that your bankruptcy lawyer prepares for you. The specific form is appropriately called the “Statement of Intention for Individuals Filing Under Chapter 7.” As you can see on the form itself, on page 2 you “List Your Unexpired Personal Property Leases.” (A vehicle is “personal property.”) So you state your lessor’s name and the vehicle being leased, and whether or not you’re “assuming” the lease. If you are not assuming it you are deemed to be rejecting it.
Timing of the Statement of Intention
Your lawyer must file/deliver the Statement of Intention within 30 days after the filing of your Chapter 7 case. If your “meeting of creditors” happens to be before then, the deadline to file is the date of that “meeting.”
If you don’t file/deliver this form by this deadline the lessor can then immediately repossess the vehicle. In other words the protection against repossession—called the “automatic stay”—that you imposed by filing your case expires if you don’t file/deliver the Statement of Intention on time. (See Section 362(h)(1)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code.)
Often the Statement of Intention gets filed the day you file all your other documents. But your lawyer may wait until the later deadline to file to give you more time with your vehicle. That’s because the “automatic stay” also expires if you don’t “take timely the action specified in such statement.” (Section 362(h)(1)(B).)
The Lessor’s Reactions
At any point your lessor may file a motion asking for permission to take possession of the vehicle. This is also called a motion for relief from the automatic stay or to lift the automatic stay. The faster the lessor gets possession the faster it can resell it and recoup some of its losses. So sometimes a lessor will file such a motion to make sure it gets possession as fast as the law allows.
But often a lessor just relies on your Statement of Intent and the expiration of the automatic stay as described above. It doesn’t file a motion but just communicates with your lawyer to arrange for your surrender of the vehicle at a time that is reasonable for both you and the lessor.
So, talk with your bankruptcy lawyer, both about whether you should reject your lease, and how to best do so.