It depends on whether there was a contract with the mechanic that authorized the mechanic to charge storage fees. The truck repair company might argue that there is a custom and usage in the industry that authorizes repair companies to charge storage fees. One Texas court rejected that argument in a case in which the trial court could have credited the testimony of a witness that the parties did not agree to storage fees. In 271 Truck Repair & Parts, Inc. v. First Air Express, Inc., 03-07-00498-CV, 2008 WL 2387630 (Tex. App. June 11, 2008), a truck repair company argued that, even though its contract did not authorize it to charge storage fees, there is an industry custom that permits mechanics to charge storage fees. The trial court found that the “Plaintiffs never entered into an agreement to pay storage fees.” The president of the repair company testified that he had experience in the trucking industry, that his company previously provided a copy of its standard invoice to the owner of the trucks that included language authorizing storage fees, and that the industry custom was that storage fees accrue on vehicles left past 30 days. The Austin Court of Appeals held that "evidence of custom and usage in an industry may be used when a contract is silent on a particular term, see Energen, 23 S.W.3d at 557, but it may not be used to contradict an express term in a contract, see Bayer Corp. v. DX Terminals, Ltd., 214 S.W.3d 586, 598 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, pet. denied) (custom and usage may not be used to contradict contract's express terms). In this case, the trial court could have credited Love's testimony that the parties did not agree to storage fees to preclude using custom and usage to allow Truck Repair to accrue storage fees. 271 Truck Repair & Parts, Inc. v. First Air Express, Inc., 03-07-00498-CV, 2008 WL 2387630 (Tex. App. June 11, 2008).
The case cited is not a holding of the Supreme Court of Texas. If the repair company qualifies as a "garageman," it might have a lien under Section 70.003 of the Texas Property Code which provides that "A garageman with whom a motor vehicle, motorboat, vessel, or outboard motor is left for care has a lien on the motor vehicle, motorboat, vessel, or outboard motor for the amount of the charges for the care, including reasonable charges for towing the motor vehicle, motorboat, vessel, or outboard motor to the garageman's place of business and excluding charges for repairs." Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 70.003 (c).
Legal disclaimer: John Bonica is licensed to practice law only in Texas. His response is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The response is only intended to provide general information. The question may not include significant and important facts that would change the response. You should confer with a local attorney for competent legal advice.
Do you still have possession of the vehicles? If you have the vehicles, at a minimum, you should perfect a Workman's Lien for the repairs that you did to the vehicles and, after the appropriate notice, foreclose on the lien. Storage charges come under a Garageman's Lien, typically and you should probably consult with a lawyer regarding the specifics of the transaction to determine whether you can lien up the vehicles for storage as well.
I'm not real clear form your question if you still have these vehicles, or if he eventually paid and picked them up but now you want to charge storage fees for the months where they were sitting on your lot. If you no longer have the vehicles, then you'll need to look to your contract and file a breach of contract lawsuit for unpaid fees. Workman's/Garageman's Liens are possessory in nature - you have to have the vehicles in your possession.
The lien process is not hard, but it is technical. A colleague in my office wrote a detailed overview of the process. I'll put the link below.
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Yes, a holder of property that has been left by an owner can charge reasonable storage fees. How much is dependent on the circumstances. What would be a normal parking fee for these items in your area?
If they are abandoned for a substantial amount of time and you have provided notice, you can attempt to obtain a court order declaring the vehicles abandoned - at which time you can change title to yourself. If the vehicles are valuable, you may want to wait three to six months.
Matthew Johnson phone# 206.747.0313 is licensed in the State of Washington and performs bankruptcy, short sale negotiations, and estate planning in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King and Pierce counties. The response does not constitute specific legal advice, which would require a full inquiry by the attorney into the complete background of the facts and circumstances surrounding this matter; rather, it is intended to be general legal information based on the limited information provided by the inquirer; it This response also does not constitute the establishment of an attorney-client relationship, which can only be established after a conflict of interest evaluation is completed, your case is accepted, and a fee agreement is signed.
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