Dealer, Toyota kept Montreal widow on the hook for husband's lease

A driver’s advocacy group is urging senior citizens who are 75 or older not to sign car leases after the widow of a 79-year-old Montreal man who entered a five-year contract with a local Toyota dealership was told she would be responsible for the vehicle.

Situation to be rectified after questions by CBC

Anne Czop, 77, says Toyota originally asked her to hold on to her late husband's car lease after he died of a sudden heart attack.

A driver's advocacy group is urging senior citizens who are 75 years or older not to sign car leases after the widow of a 79-year-old Montreal man who entered a five-year contract with a local Toyota dealership was told she would be responsible for the vehicle.

"Leasing is usually just a bad idea for seniors once you're past 75 years old and here's why: at 80 you have a driving test [administered by the Société des Assurances Automobiles du Québec]. If you don't make it, you're stuck with a lease on a vehicle that basically you can't use anymore," said George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association.

Iny said the APA has heard about a dozen complaints from seniors who feel they have been wronged by the automobile retail industry in the last two years.

For Anne Czop, 77, the situation went further than failing drivers' tests.

Czop says she and her late husband, Ted, 79, received a phone call from their long-time dealership, Toyota Spinelli Lachine in December, and were told they had 24 hours to think about a deal that'd have them trade in their 2011 Toyota Corolla for a 2015 model.

"We would have the seats that warm up, and the Bluetooth, and especially you can see where you're backing, almost like a TV," Czop said, adding the new car's features enticed her husband.

Ted Czop signed the lease, which folded in a left-over debt of $4,500 from the previous car's contract. His wife did not sign on as a co-lessee, but she did co-sign one specific paragraph with her husband. It explained the signatories are free to cancel the dealer's authorization to withdraw monthly payments, but would still be obliged to pay the amount owing on the contract.

Yannick Label, a legal expert with consumer protection group Union des Consommateurs, said Quebec's succession law makes Anne  Czop liable for the contract, not that one clause, which is a standard, legal practise in documents of this type.

"I was told that the only reason I'm signing was because it's a joint account and I said OK, fine," Anne Czop said, stating she did not read the clause.

Her husband Ted passed away at the end of March of a sudden heart attack. Anne doesn't drive and said she's never had a license in her life.

The Toyota Corolla 2015 sat unused in the Czops' garage after Ted Czop passed away.

"They told me I was responsible for the lease," Czop said the dealership maintained when she called.

Anne Czop and her daughter, Debra, also got in touch with Toyota Finance.

According to the pair, it said Anne would have three options.

First, she could keep making payments on the $25,000 lease.

Secondly, she could have Toyota Canada repossess the vehicle and sell or lease it to someone else, with her still owing about $9,500 on it.

Thirdly, she could return the car debt-free, but end up with a terrible credit rating.

"I didn't want to have that on me at all," Anne Czop said. "There's no way."

Toyota to offer solution

CBC Montreal Investigates reached out to the dealership and Toyota Finance for comment.

Both declined to provide interviews.

The dealership stated it values its relationship with customers, who are always free to make their own choices on lease lengths.

Toyota Canada said it would provide a solution that would satisfy the Czops. It then offered to absorb most of the new car's lease, leaving Anne with only the $4,500 left over from the previous lease.

The car manufacturer has agreed to take the Toyota Corolla 2015 back, asking Czop to only pay the outstanding amount on the previous lease her late husband had signed: $4,500.

Anne Czop said she would accept that deal.

Recently, CBC Montreal's morning radio show Daybreak spoke to a woman who said her 87-year-old father had his driver's license revoked by the Société des Assurances Automobiles du Québec after he was diagnosed with dementia. Honda kept him on the hook for a car lease, only cancelling it after Daybreak reached out for comment.

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Raffy Boudjikanian

Senior reporter

Raffy Boudjikanian is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He has also worked in Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal for the public broadcaster.