Repo Man Cometh For Furnace

Repossessing a car or mobile home is one thing, but a furnace?

One heating and cooling contractor did exactly that after a customer didn’t fully pay for the furnace he installed. So they went into her basement and ripped out the furnace and dragged it out and drove off with it.

The customer said that the installation wasn’t up to code and was withholding payment until that was fixed. The company owner says that was just a ruse to dodge payment and that the installation did meet all the proper requirements.

Be that as it may, you can’t just bust into someone’s cellar and take stuff out of it, says the Omaha City Prosecutor. “Once you annexed something like a furnace to a house it becomes part of the house and you can’t go back in, tear it out and call it personal property and repossess it,” he told WOWT.

The woman got a new heating system installed but has filed a criminal complaint against the contractor, who has now filed a lien against her house. Now it’s up to the lawyers to duke it out.

Repossessed Furnace Steams Landlord [WOWT] (Thanks to Matt!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. dwtomek says:

    I’m thinking she should have done more research before deciding on a contractor. Realizing that I do not have all the facts, that is not how a professional contractor would have handled the situation.

    • danic512 says:

      What in the heck is wrong with you? Despite the fact you admit to not having all the facts and that this action is clearly illegal, you still have the stones to blame the victim for “not doing enough research”? Is there some sort of database out there that lists contractors that illegally repo equipment, even if they have never done so in the past?

      Do yourself a favor and read up on the “just world” fallacy. You’re making the assumption that there was a way for the subject to prevent this from happening and is thus responsible. The person wholly responsible is the person who broker in – the contractor.

      • danic512 says:

        Dang browser!

      • danic512 says:

        Dang browser!

      • Hotscot says:

        I’ll tell you this.

        The Contractors lobby in California is so powerful that anything aiding the customer is so watered down as to be useless.
        You can check a license yes, however if there has been any criminal action in the past by the contractor that fact is listed only if it was construction related. He could have spent time in prison for murder or rape or armed robbery and it wouldn’t be mentioned in the license background check.

        Even if he had one, two or a dozen construction related judgments against him, if he had subsequently settled them they don’t get mentioned.

        BBB..if he paid his fees he’ll get an A rating.

        And liens? Liens are ridiculously easy for a contractor to obtain, he doesn’t need to provide proof, and fiendishly difficult for the homeowner to remove.
        A contractor walked off a job with my money and refused to come back and finish it. When I demanded my money back he placed a lien on my new house just as I was applying for a mortgage. (The lien serves to freeze your property in terms of any transactions taking place.)
        It was really easy for him to do so.
        My mortgage application was denied because of it. (I’m now paying 6.25% instead of 5.00% by the time I got one.)
        It cost me thousands to get a court to release the lien. Minimal effect on the contractor.
        And if he wants he can turn around and place another lien on my house.

        The Contractors License Board even has an article entitled. How To Prevent A Lien. However it is absolutely inaccurate as there’s nothing at all that can prevent a licensed contractor placing a lien on your house.

    • Consumerist-Moderator-Roz says:

      “Blame the tipster” type comments don’t really add a lot to constructive discussion (one of the reasons it’s in our rules to post constructive, helpful feedback). There’s nothing in the article to imply that the person was negligent; we simply don’t know enough to make that assessment, as you admit.

    • Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

      You can do as much research as you want: some shady contractors still slip through.

      Five years ago I was in charge of having both of the bathrooms at my parents’ home renovated while they were out of the country. I interviewed 10 contractors, called their references, did online research, and finally chose the one who had the best references, best online information, and even provided a warranty, even though he was slightly more than some of the other candidates.

      What was supposed to be a two week job stretched out to more than three months with various mistakes made and an overall sloppy job. A year later, when my parents returned, we discovered that the primary reason for the reno – leaking traps and pipes – were not fixed, there was nothing we could do as the year warranty was up (I was never told that there was a time limit on the warranty – I was young and naive). Since then, we have had to have the plumbing completely redone and the master bathroom had to be re-renovated after the cheap shower basin cracked (after I paid for the higher-grade one).

      Moral: research all you want, slimewads still slip through.

  2. damicatz says:

    Does the phrase “breaking and entering” ring a bell?

    • Azzizzi says:

      He said there was no lock on the door. Also he said the contract stated he would repossess the furnace if payment wasn’t received.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        A threat to repossess, even if done in an official capacity such as a contract, does not supercede state and federal law.

        I’m not saying repossession is illegal in this case, as I don’t know the law in his state, but it stands to reason that some legal proceeding would have to occur before repossession. Anyone know what the laws generally are for cars? I don’t think repossessors can enter someone’s property to abtain a car.

        I read a report on a guy who did plane reposessions. He could not enter someone’s hanger illegally. He did try every trick in the book to get someone to let him in though.

    • qwickone says:

      “Breaking” in breaking and entering refers to the invisible box placed around your house/apartment itself. Therefore, you can “break” into a house that is not locked because you have broken the plane that exists around it. /Per my intro to law class

      • Straspey says:

        Also – In the State of New York, there is no such crime as “Breaking and Entering” – they refer to it as “Burglary” and it’s a felony.

        Much the same way a landlord cannot forcibly evict a deadbeat tenant by throwing his stuff out on to the street and changing the locks. That’s also considered a crime.

  3. misterfweem says:

    MOE SZYSLAK: Come on, gimme back my floor! My customers are walkin’ around in the pipes!

    REPO GUY: Hey, if you want your floor back, pay your bills.

    MOE SZYSLAK: I don’t want to!

  4. sirwired says:

    The proper thing to do would have been to file the lien and pursue the homeowner in court for payment… yeah, a repo was not smart.

    I guess this jurisdiction doesn’t do inspections for HVAC installs, or there would be no question about it’s up-to-code-ness.

    • Rachacha says:

      Many contractors don’t bother to pull a permit for equipment replacement in residental buildings, therefore the local authority does not know that there is a new piece of equipment that needs to be inspected.

      This happened to my parents. They had their water heater replaced, and at the time of signing the contract they asked if the contractor (very well known in the area) would pull the necessary permits. They said “sure”. After the install, my mom asked the installed when the inspector would be coming and the installer informed her that they NEVER pull permits so no inspector was needed. Sounding fishy, my parents caled the town permit office that confirmed that permits MUST be pulled. Several calls later with the contractor and threats from the town regulators and a few modifications to the installation and my parents had a properly permitted water heater.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        I’m surprised your parents had to pull a permit for a hot water heater. I’ve never lived anywhere where a permit was required to replace an existing appliance. The only time it ever came up was when I wanted to replace a gas water heater with an electric and had to run a new circuit.

        • Cosmo_Kramer says:

          You may think you’ve never been required to get a permit for a replacement appliance, but you probably were. Very few contractors do it for replacements, even reputable contractors, so people assume it isn’t necessary.

        • JiminyChristmas says:

          Cosmo Kramer’s comment is correct. Generally speaking, any new work subject to the code has to conform to the current code and a permit and inspection is required. It doesn’t matter whether the work is in a brand new house or a replacement of something in an existing house.

    • tooluser says:

      If the contractor doesn’t pull a permit when required to do so, I do so myself. (Not required for water heater installation here, if the contractor is a licensed plumber.)

      It’s my meager little insurance policy against gross incompetency. But the city inspectors vary a lot in their attentiveness, and the main purpose of the permit is to get money for the city — not to make things right or good or safe. Still, having a government-certified “expert” proclaim that an installation is no good is worth something in bargaining power. Lets the contractor know that their work will be checked.

      • JiminyChristmas says:

        Why in the world would you put your name on a permit for work someone else is doing? Are you hiring unlicensed contractors? Any reputable contractor who is licensed to perform the work in question should pull their own permit.

        Otherwise, it’s your responsibility to present a code compliant installation for inspection. If it doesn’t pass, arguing with the contractor also becomes your problem. Why make yourself the middleman between the inspector and the person performing the work? Let them hash things out.

  5. caradrake says:

    Wonder if she could sue for denial of service in cold weather? Aren’t there laws that say an electricity/gas company can’t cut a utility for non-payment if the weather is (or is expected to) drop below a certain temperature? Would the same thing apply?

    • Grogey says:

      I don’t think hot water counts for that. Now as you said if the laws are put in place such as my state they cannot turn of electricity or gas during the winter months.

    • DragonsPhoenix says:

      I don’t think so because the contractor is not a utility supplier, and those laws target gas and electric supply, not appliance suppliers. If they did, you would see people suing places like home depot if their deliveries were late during the winter months or contractors that were behind schedule. She should be able to sue him for damages and the criminal charges are valid because he is not a lender and the money owed was not secured by the property he took. Even worse, he’s sandbagged his own case – if it was to code, he can never prove it now. Her lawyer will argue that he ripped it out in order to prevent an independent inspection finding in her favor, and he now has no standing to argue the contrary. If she gets a criminal judgement against him, that can also be presented in civil court and he’ll also be up against the general legal bias against criminals.

    • Difdi says:

      Denial of service? Doubtful. Attempted murder, on the other hand, citing the reasons why utility companies aren’t allowed to terminate service in cold weather…

  6. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Most states take a homeowner’s heating very seriously, including assistance for heating bills and not allowing power to be shut off in cold months. All this because poor people die from hypothermia in their own home.

    That being said, the contractor is a moron. The correct action is to place the lein (which he eventually did) and take them to court. Not rip out their furnace.

  7. c!tizen says:

    “The woman got a new heating system installed but has filed a criminal against the contractor”

    What kind of criminal? Are we talking “I didn’t get charged for a DVD and didn’t realize until I got home” criminal or more of a serial killer type?

  8. bsh0544 says:

    I know it’s a typo, but I’d like more information on how to file a criminal against someone. Does this just send a murderer or mugger directly to their home or office, or what?

    • RandomHookup says:

      It’s kinda like the “file in a cake” thing comedians joke about, but I don’t know exactly how.

  9. Torchwood says:

    Hey, buddy, want to buy a slightly used furnace?

  10. Battlehork says:

    I’m the Repo Man. What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine too! AH HA HA HA HA HA HA!

  11. Blueskylaw says:

    They will get my furnace once they pry it from my COLD dead hands.

  12. teke367 says:

    Congratulations, they got their furnace back, now go to jail.

  13. obits3 says:

    There would be no problem if this was a bank.

  14. YokoOhNo says:

    oops…that contractor fucked up royally.

    though I’d love to do that to our dead beat client.

  15. Bativac says:

    There are some good contractors out there, but boy, contractors in general have earned their reputation.

  16. Krusty783 says:

    Contractor is a moron. State law supersedes his retail sale terms. I think someone’s gotten themselves in hot water here…

    I would venture a bet that the contractor just installed the furnace willy-nilly without permits, etc. The landlord then had it inspected because if it was not up to code and something happened, her a$$ would be on the line. It doesn’t pass inspection, contractor has moved on and ignores her, so she uses the best weapon she has; her checkbook.

    Bottom line is that the contractor did not fulfill the terms of sale by completing the installation, then burglarized the property to retrieve the furnace…

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      Absolutely. Homeowner’s insurance can refuse to pay your policy if you didn’t have things correctly installed.

  17. Commenter24 says:

    I’m not entirely sure I agree that the furnace is absolutely a “fixture” that can’t be repossessed (fixtures become part of the realty, and are thus subject to real property laws rather than the UCC). Though even assuming that it’s not a fixture and remains personal property that is subject to repossession he certainly didn’t comply with the requirements for a valid repo. Even if the cellar wasn’t locked it’s likely that his act of going through a closed door to get to the furnace constituted a breach of the peace, which is a violation of Article 9 of the UCC (the part that governs secured transactions and repossessions).

    • target_veteran says:

      The way it was explained in my INS classes was that you take the house, turn upside down, and shake. Everything that falls out isn’t part of the house; everything that stays attached is. So, a water heater bolted in and connected to numerous pipes counts.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Also how it was explained to me during my home purchase.

      • Commenter24 says:

        That’s not entirely correct, but it’s not totally false either. It’s really more complicated than what’s “attached” and what’s not “attached.” There are things that can be “attached” to the home that aren’t fixtures. Simply put, it’s pretty fact-specific as to how things are installed, etc. A TV mounted to the wall isn’t a fixture, but it also wouldn’t fall out of your house when you turn it upside down and shake it.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Given the judge disagrees with you, you’re probably dead wrong.

      I doubt no court in the U.S. would agree that a furnace is not a home fixture or equivalent. Keep in mind a furnace costs anywhere from $3,000-15,000 to install, depending on size and location. And that does not include geothermal pumps which, if a new installation, can cost as much as a new car.

      In addition, since most furnaces are in a home for decades, by the time a replacement is needed the venting system is too outdated to properly handle a newer unit. This means that it’s almost guaranteed that the contractor has to do a lot of venting work, which includes any of resealing the vents, changing the airflow through adding or removing venting, and adding/removing air registers. It’s a a lot of labor, hence the high cost. Since your homes venting system function in the same fashion as your pipes and electrical wiring in the sense that it branches out from a single point into various cavities of your house akin to cappillaries in your body, then it is most definitely a home fixture.

      • Commenter24 says:

        First off, the City Prosecutor isn’t a judge. There is no mention of a judge in the article. Second, how much it costs has very little bearing on whether something is a “fixture,” which has a very specific legal meaning. Determining whether something is a fixture involves a very fact-specific inquiry that looks at things like how hard the item is to remove, whether it would damage the home to remove it (and the furnace simply no longer being there isn’t damage), whether it was intended to be permanently affixed (usually looking at how it was installed), etc. I’m not saying it’s not a fixture, but I’m also unwilling to simply say, “yup, it’s a fixture” without knowing more specifics on the type of furnace, how it was installed, etc. Presumably there are furnaces (not the full HVAC, but just the furnace unit itself) that are quite easy to take in and out and those could potentially not be fixtures.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          I guess I saw the word judge in a different article. Regardless, no actual judge would rule this not a fixture.

          You’re right that there are specific criteria for what is fixed and not fixed. And a furnace meets the criteria of a fixed aspect of the house. The argument that a home is not damaged when the furnace is removed is false. The absence of a furnace in a home makes it’s legally unlivable. If you cannot rent a home without a furncace, it fits the definition as a fixture.

          Also, see Commenter24’s little addage.

          • Commenter24 says:

            You’re making conclusory statements with no real support for them. You fail to cite any code sections that actually state a home must contain a “furnace,” and not just a source of heat (fireplace, perhaps?). You’re also confusing the term “damaged” with building requirements. One can remove various necessary things from a home (or any object, for that matter) without “damaging” the object. Damage occurs when you leave the object in substantially worse shape then it was in before the item was installed to begin with. Ripping things off of a roof and leaving broken holes is damage; unscrewing or unbolting an item and removing it isn’t damage.

            • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

              Unless you plan on buying a home in cash, most if not all banks will not negotiate a mortgage on the property without a “central heating system” in place. A free standing woodstove, pellet stove, propane stove are NOT considered central heating. They are not “Permanent fixtures” of the house, only supplemental. By removing this furnace, not only have they entered and removed something by illegal measures, but they have also “hurt” this home’s resale value, therefore damage WAS CAUSED. Damage by having to put in some sort of supplemental heating while without a furnace… this is all damages. Might not be structural, but damages nonetheless.

              The better course would have been to hire 2 independent inspectors and let them decide if the heating system was installed correctly. If not, fix it. If the contractor still felt he was right, then small claims court, or put a lien on the house, ETC… He has to prove the furnace was installed correctly, and the courts can decide.

              Regardless of whether the furnace is considered “permanent” (which, lets be honest, your argument holds -0- water) or not; you entered my property, took a fixture by illegal means, and left me without heat. You are in big trouble, pal.

        • JiminyChristmas says:

          To the best of my knowledge, there is no furnace for sale anywhere in the United States that, properly installed, would not be a fixture. Anything with a hard-wired (i.e.: not plugged into a receptacle) electrical connection, which all furnaces have, is considered a fixture. Hard piping, e.g.: natural gas supply, would also make the furnace a fixture. Lastly, the furnace is mechanically fastened to the ductwork, which is itself fastened to the structure and you don’t seem to argue that ‘the rest of the HVAC system’ isn’t a fixture.

          In other words, if a furnace isn’t a fixture then neither are lights, sinks, toilets or kitchen cabinet.s

        • AustinTXProgrammer says:

          I priced a geothermal system for my house and it was $40k! It would never return enough to pay for itself in a reasonable time frame!

    • Difdi says:

      Going into someone’s house or outbuilding and stealing a loose object is burglary, which is a felony. Why would anyone think it would be ok to steal something that is physically attached to the building?

    • rambo76098 says:

      A furnace is real property, not personal property. Are you going to take the furnace with you when you move? Is it part of a building utility system? Those simple tests prove that it is real property. You can’t repo real property. You can file a mechanics lien.

  18. rpm773 says:

    So, I’m getting an image of a tow truck and chain….

    …And a big hole in the wall in the outline of a furnace.

  19. P41 says:

    A few observations…The contractor filed a lien on the house, presumably under the “mechanic’s lien” principle of when you improve something you have a right to lien against it. Putting aside the legal process that has to be followed to “repo”, it seems to me that the fact that he removed the heater contradicts that theory. If it’s an improvement, wouldn’t you have to repossess the whole building? By “unimproving” it, he’s either contradicting himself or admitting to grand theft.

    Secondly, the removal of the furnace pretty clearly makes the installation not to code. I can see that one now… Judge: So your claim is that for a while you complied with the agreement, but admit that you made the furnace no longer installed to code?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      My thouths as well. Given the homeowner installed a new furnace after he ripped out the old one, can he really put a lein on the house? The furnace no longer exists in the home.

  20. stevied says:

    The lien should have been filed first.

  21. SillyMama says:

    Man, that’s COLD!

  22. foofish says:

    Zydrate comes in a little glass vile
    A little glass vile?
    A little glass vile
    And the little glass vile goes into the gun like a battery
    And the Zydrate gun goes somewhere against your anatomy
    And when the gun goes off, it sparks, and you’re ready for surgery

  23. Rhinoguy says:

    Furnaces and water heaters are fixtures according to the National Residential Building Code. They also have to be listed separately on a sales contract if they are faulty or missing.
    Regardless, the contractor was an idiot and will be made miserable in court. So will the home owner. The lawyers will win and the courts don’t care as long as everyone involved is punished.

  24. maynurd says:

    Since the contractor pulled the furnace out and left with it, what is the basis of his placine a lien against the home owner. This doesn’t really say when the furnace was installed, or if some payments had been made.
    Where I live heating in the winter is a serious issue. Even to the extent that the Gas company is banned from shutting off service if you don’t pay your bill.

  25. econobiker says:

    Watch out some people try to shaft contractors. Because they are cheap. This does not absolve the contractor in this case for his actions.I have seen issues happen especially with ultra cheap but wealthy customers who think that they can shaft the contractor since the amount owed is not worth suing about due to legal fees etc…

    Wood cabinet maker does $30k cabinets for very wealthy customer’s custom built kitchen in a big home undergoing renovation. Installs cabinets and gets sign off on completion. Then customer starts to have problems etc about color, hardware, etc. Doesn’t matter that this is exactly what customer specified at the start. Customer says “Will not pay any more.”- 50% or something still owed. Since home is still undergoing renovation and other renovation trades going in and out during the day, the cabinet maker easily goes in and pulls every cabinet door front off (euro hinges) and all the drawers out and took them back to his shop. Customer calls freaking out saying “You stole my cabinet doors/drawers. Cabinet maker says “They are not yours until paid in full. I had to take them back to properly “finish wax” them. Sorry. Send final payment and I will reinstall after “finish wax”.” Customer realized he was beat so he sends complete and final payment. Cabinet maker has lowest paid worker wipe the doors and drawer fronts down with cheap spray wax then takes the parts back to the kitchen and re-installs them. Problem solved.

  26. rambo76098 says:

    Wow, good thing this contractor knows how the law works. I hope all his licenses are revoked. The fact that he thought it was a good idea to repo the furnace makes me believe the homeowner’s claim that the work was not up to code.

  27. hmburgers says:

    So… she says he didn’t do install it properly… so he goes in and tears it out?

    So now there’s no proof that he did, or did not do it correctly (destroyed potential evidence of his poor workmanship)… he entered the premises without permission, stole, and caused damage (B&E)… now he’s put a lien on her house as well…

    Sorry dude, but the lien and courts were the correct answer… too bad you didn’t do that originally, you might have been OK. Now you’ll just have to eat all your original costs, plus her damages, plus her court costs and frankly what may be an irreparable PR hit within your business area.

    Good luck w/ that… next time suck it up and go the legal route.