Person leaves large piece of equipment in your yard. When is it yours?

If someone is paid to perform some work on your property, but then leaves a large piece of equipment (like a small-car-sized machine) in your yard for weeks, when can you legally remove it? When can you sell it? Are there steps one must take befor it is considered abandoned property? Does it matter if the work has not been completed? Can the property be sold to recoup some of the losses, since the project was already paid for?

I have had a large backhoe in my backyard leaking oil for several weeks now. I contacted the guy via email. The first time he said he would be back to finish the work. A week later, I sent another email that he never responded to. The backhoe has been sitting for like a month.

All hypothetical of course.
I understand that any answer from a lawyer or legal type will only be a general answer, and not necessarily the answer for my particular situation. I also understand that laws vary by location, and that answering this question does not constitute any lawyer-client relationship.

In Missouri, all you have to do is give the owner 30 days notice by certified mail that you intend to apply for title to the vehicle. Submit the required paperwork to the state and bam, you own a new backhoe.


Call your local police department. It’s going to vary by location.

Actually, it appears to be an old and leaky backhoe.

As John Mace said, check with the police. Given the cost of backhoes, doing the wrong thing with it could potentially lead to felony charges.

I’d think in most jurisdictions you could have it towed (at personal expense, of course).

If you are interested in selling it to recoup expenses, I would consider seeing a lawyer, rather than the police. The police may not give you accurate information over what is essentially a civil matter.

Or, depending on the possible value of the piece of equipment, go to small claims court over the unfinished work, and ask for a lien on the item left on your property as part of the settlement.

If you just want it removed, a tow company would probably know whether they can tow it and keep it until the towing and storage fees are redeemed and how long they have to wait to sell it. They might also have an idea of its value (for their own sake, if they agree to tow it for fees).

Put a boot on the wheel of that back-hoe and start sending the owner, impound invoices. Keep escalating the penalties for lack of payment. Once it get’s really substantial, sell the outstanding amount to a collection agency for $0.30 on the dollar.

This post gave me the following idea:

Find a business-owned parking lot in your neighborhood which has one of these signs posted: “Parking for customers only! Unauthorized vehicles will be towed at owner’s expense by Jack’s Towing 555-555-5555”. Then, give Jack a call and ask him if he’d be interested in towing it off your yard. You might not make anything off the deal, but at least it won’t be leaking oil into your land. And maybe the conversation alone would yield some ideas.

Since the answers to the OP will be mostly opinions, let’s move from GQ to IMHO.

samclem, Moderator

I’ve dealt with these scenarios before. The only solution (I’ve found) is to give a definitive date a few days from the time you are calling by which you are going to have it towed, and that will usually make them scramble to find a new home for it. Don’t fiddle with trying claim it.

He’ll play you as free storage lot as long as he can.

That sounds like a good idea to me, considering the unfinished work. Two birds with one stone, and all that.

And, since he already has possession (in the physical sense) as soon as he has legal possession (the lien) he can immediately sell it. I think. I am not a lawyer, though.

Are tow trucks authorized to tow heavy machinery like Bobcats? :confused: The tow company could be liable for damages. It seems like tow trucks are designed only for cars.

Heck, lawsuits have even made some companies switch to those special flat bed trucks to haul away cars.

There are big tow trucks and tow flatbeds that can haul away anything.

Word. There are even tow trucks for tractor-trailer trucks.

Sure. And they are much more expensive.

I don’t think you’re going to tow a backhoe unless you can get the bucket & the arm off the ground first, which requires the keys to the equipment. Road departments tend to take a dim view of dragging a bucket along their street.

And you’re going to have a remarkably difficult time winching a backhoe onto one of the flatbed tow trucks - they’re much heavier than a car.

OP, I’d recommend paying a lawyer to write a letter threatening legal action. I’ve heard this is SOP for lots of these types of businesses - leave the equipment at the last job site until they need it again at a new site, or the property owner gets a lawyer. Saves them a LOT of money on transport & storage costs.

Equipment keys are a lot more standardized than consumer vehicle keys - more often than not, one key starts up every machine in a manufacturer’s particular line. If you know the manufacturer, you can probably pick up a key that works in the machine for a couple of bucks. If your towing company also has some construction equipment (frequently the case for areas that require snow removal), chances are they either already have one or can get their hands on one pretty easily.

Why is this allowed? Presumably at some point the contractor is putting the homeowner at risk of being in violation of city codes, as they don’t tend to allow long-term storage of heavy machinery in residential areas.

I would want to document the oil leak. If it’s severe and has contaminated your property you may want to have them clean it up.