It was my own fault. I sold the car and should have insisted my buyer come back in the morning when the DVS (Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services) branches were open so we could transfer the title to him. But Coon Rapids, Minnesota is thirty-five miles from Eagan, Minnesota, it was dusk, the buyer had cash, and he promised to take care of transferring the title the next day. And so I let him drive away into the sunset the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019.
After I sold the car and my buyer drove away, I filled out a Notice of Sale form on the Minnesota DVS website and saved a PDF. This was the only thing I did right, but the buyer’s handwriting was nearly illegible and I got his address wrong. That would haunt me later.
My first sign of trouble came a few weeks later when the license tags were up for renewal. For some reason, the state of Minnesota sent the renewal notice to my address instead of my buyer. I asked my local DVS branch about it, they looked it up, and said don’t worry about it. So I didn’t. After all, I sold the car. It wasn’t my problem anymore.
Except it was.
In November, Hennepin County, Minnesota sent me a late notice for a parking ticket. Seems my buyer parked illegally somewhere and Hennepin County wanted $50 for the infraction. I contacted Hennepin County, waded through a messy tree of phone menus, and finally connected with a live human, who told me the car was still in my name and I was still responsible for it.
But wait a minute. I sold the car–how could I still be responsible for it?
I contacted DVS, waded through another set of phone menus, and then waited on hold for a person. That was when I found out, my buyer never transferred the title. Filing a Notice of Sale does not complete the transaction; the buyer needs to transfer the title and pay tax.
Now what? I contacted Hennepin County again and waded through more phone menus to talk to a live person. Hennepin County contacted DVS, DVS told Hennepin County I did in fact file the Notice of Sale, but the car was still in my name and I was still responsible for any tickets. Or anything else bad that might happen.
And then it got worse. My buyer’s street address did not exist. All I had was a cell number from September 3, when he texted me he was on his way to look at the car.
I texted my buyer and waited, tried again and waited, and then called. The phone rang four times and an automated message said his voicemail hadn’t been activated yet. I called all day and several days after that. I called one time around midnight and then again at 5 AM. Later that day – and all the next day – his phone went immediately to the automated message about no voicemail greeting.
I tried calling from a different phone. It rang four times before going to the automated greeting. Calls from my phone went immediately to the automated greeting. Calls from a different phone rang first before going to the greeting. This clown had blocked calls from my phone.
Hiding from your obligations is a great way to motivate people you owe to collect their debts. This knucklehead became a VIP in my life that day. Problem was, I didn’t know how to find him because his address on the Notice of Sale was wrong.
I called DVS and begged for a correct address. I read the address I had, on Trip Street, but the lady could only tell me it was wrong.
And so I wrote an email to DVS that this was not my car, I’d sold it, I had no way to find my buyer who was hiding, but I would not be responsible for this car. A few days later, Sadie from DVS wrote back.
Sadie’s reply was classic.
A notice of Sale does not remove the seller’s name or transfer the record to the buyer. The only way to change the listed owner of record is for a buyer to apply to transfer a title to their name. There is no such thing as deleting your information from the record or “Forcing” a transfer to another persons name. The report of sale and trying to contact the buyer to transfer the title are the only options to you as the seller.
However, we often are asked what a seller should do about receiving citations for a vehicle they have sold.
You can request a copy of the vehicle’s record, on that record it shows that you reported the sale, on what date you reported it and the buyers information. You can then show that record to the agency that is sending you a citation for the vehicle. I understand that this is frustrating, but there is no wording in the Minnesota State Statutes for other options.
Maybe a Path Forward
Finally, a glimmer of hope. There was a way to find my buyer. A couple email exchanges later and I learned I needed to fill out some forms and appear in person at the main DVS location in downtown St. Paul to plead my case. And so, the morning of Dec. 30, 2019, I downloaded and filled out sections A, C, and D of the appropriate official government form.
But a doubt nagged me. What if it were a street with a similar name to “Trip?” I complain about Google spying on us, but sometimes Google is our friend. When I put “Trip Street” into Google Maps, it found, “Tulip Street.”
To make sure, I called DVS and waited on hold for an hour. I finally connected with somebody who confirmed I had the correct address. No need to go to St. Paul and wait in line. Next, I needed a court order compelling DVS to take my name off the title and force it to the buyer.
This was a much better option than my idea – travel thirty-five miles, find the car, take off a tire, and then contact the buyer to meet me at a DVS location and transfer the title if he wanted his tire returned. Or, maybe I could get a duplicate title from DVS, call a salvage yard, and have them tow the car away as junk.
Both options depended on my ability to find the car. I know where this guy lives, but who knows where the car might be? And so getting that court order seemed like the most sensible option.
How Hard Could it Be?
I drove through a snowstorm to the Apple Valley court house and started asking questions. One of the ladies behind the bullet-proof glass divider behind the security officers and X-Ray scanner suggested filing a Conciliation Court claim. Which didn’t fit what I wanted. But there was a law librarian in the adjacent county library who might be able to help. Unfortunately, she was out to lunch for the next hour.
I wandered aimlessly through shelves of statute books and then waded through DVS websites, covering ground I had already covered. I also called DVS again and waited on hold for forty-five minutes. How do you get this magic court order? A lady from DVS picked up the phone about the same time the law librarian came back from her lunch break. DVS said they had no idea how the courts worked. The law librarian said she could not offer legal advice, but I was welcome to set up an appointment and talk to a lawyer the next day.
Wait a minute. I sold the car. My buyer didn’t transfer the title – there’s gotta be a way to ask the court for an order to make this happen. This is government; there’s a process for everything. There’s a form to compel the seller to do it, why not a similar form to compel the buyer to do it?
Sometimes answers are so simple with hindsight. “Just doctor the form,” she said. “There’s nothing special about those forms; they’re all formatted the way the court wants to see them. Just swap ‘buyer’ and ‘seller’ and make it say what you need it to say.”
I downloaded some convenient .DOC files from the DVS website and used MS Word on the law library computer to doctor them to my circumstance, and viola – I had a proper court form.
But wait – there’s more. I’m the plaintiff, my buyer is the defendant, and I needed to send copies of the motion to my buyer and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. But I can’t send those forms myself; somebody not me and unrelated to the court or the matter at hand has to send them, and then fill out an affidavit that they sent them and give the affidavit to the court. I’m not making this up – that’s the law in Minnesota. And I had to pay a $297 filing fee.
I did all that and have a court date of Feb. 10, 2020 at 9 AM at the Apple Valley, MN. courthouse. I also sent my buyer a hand-written note with the court form. I told him he owes me an additional $350 to cover the filing fee and his parking ticket. And if he ignores that, he’ll owe me an additional $77 for a Conciliation Court filing fee after the County Court rules in my favor on the car title. I probably won’t see one penny for all my trouble, but I’ll get a judgment in my favor and maybe someday he’ll care enough about his credit to take care of it.
And that brings me to tonight, Dec. 30, 2019, almost midnight. It might be after midnight when I publish this blog post. Happy New Year’s eve.
Lessons? I sold the car and trusted my buyer to do the right thing. Never again. If you’re a Minnesota car seller and find yourself in a similar situation, here is the link to the DVS website with the relevant forms to doctor.
Lessons for my buyer? None yet, but maybe in the next few weeks he’ll learn that hiding from his obligations makes his creditors mad.
Update, Dec. 31, 2019, 4:30 PM
Now that I have my buyer’s address, I met with a hearing officer at the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis today and she agreed to assign the parking ticket to my buyer.
Update, Summer, 2020
The Feb. 2020 court date came and went. The buyer didn’t show up and I won the judgment. I now had a judge’s order to compel the State of Minnesota to assign the title to my buyer. But just one catch – I needed to pay $14 for an official copy so I could present the official order to DVS and finally get this ordeal behind me.
Armed with that official piece of paper, I drove straight to the nearest DVS branch and presented it. The person behind the counter at the DVS branch on Cliff Road said that branch didn’t process title changes. She sent me to the DVS branch on Cedar Grove Parkway. I waited in line, and finally, it was my turn at the counter. I presented my judge’s order and the person behind the counter looked at me as if I’d just landed from Mars.
“You can’t just walk in and demand we transfer your car title to somebody else.”
“This piece of paper says I can.”
“Who says so?”
“A judge. I paid money for this.”
He looked up something on his computer and agreed. They could transfer the title for a $97 fee.
“No!” the word escaped before I could react. “Enough is enough. I’m not paying $97 more for what I already paid more than $300 to get done.”
That was when a manager came out to settle me down. She explained that this DVS site doesn’t handle forced transfers. The single, one, and only way to do that is, present all my documents to DVS headquarters in downtown St. Paul.
“You’ve GOT to be kidding me.”
I walked away, empty-handed. I mailed it all in a couple days later. Relief, at last.
Well, not quite.
In early March, 2020, a response came in the mail from DVS in St. Paul. It seems there’s a $25 title transfer fee, and if I send all the documents back with a $25 check enclosed, they would take care of it. Sigh… Death by 1000 cuts. I sent it all back, along with my $25 paper check, on March 10, 2020.
On Sunday, March 15, 2020, COVID-19 shut down the State of Minnesota. My check went into limbo for nearly three months.
When I reconciled my June, 2020 bank statement, I noticed that check had cleared on June 4, 2020.
From time to time, I think about taking my buyer to Conciliation Court. I have all the documents and I’m sure I could win a judgment. Collecting it – well – it’s just not worth the trouble.