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How To Get The Ownership of a Motorcycle With No Ownership

How do you replace the ownership for a motorcycle you don’t own? What do you do when you’ve bought a motorcycle, only to get home and realize that it didn’t come with an ownership? That’s the situation I found myself in, so here’s what I did.

By the end of this page you should be able to:

Feel free to click the links at the top to skip down to whatever applies to you. Let’s get right into it.

Why do motorcycle ownerships get lost so often?

Time has away of taking things away from us, and ownership papers are no exception, but there are a few other reasons that I’ve come across for lost ownerships over the past few years, including:

  • Moving and/or messy break-ups
  • Differences between how registrations are handled from one state/province to another
  • Natural disasters and/or flooded basements
  • Police theft recoveries
  • Finance repossession recoveries

Take action: Fairly basic stuff, right? But if you don’t already know why the motorcycle in front of you doesn’t have an ownership, you should figure that out right away.

Should I buy a motorcycle with no ownership?

Great question! That’s a whole article in itself. If the seller, Tom, has no keys and no ownership, and he’s meeting you somewhere you aren’t positive is his home, there are too many red flags here, and you should leave it alone. If on the other hand, Tom is selling his uncle Jim’s bike, because uncle Jim recently passed away, and the family found a key but not the ownership, you might be alright. Likewise, if you’re looking at a “barn find” motorcycle for a restoration project that looks like it’s been sitting for twenty years, you’re probably okay.

How do I make sure that the motorcycle isn’t stolen?

See (1) for VIN# location

When you’re dealing with a motorcycle with a lost ownership, there’s always a possibility that you’re dealing with a stolen motorcycle. In the United States and Canada, even unknowingly buying a stolen motorcycle qualifies as receipt of stolen property, which is a federal crime. The punishment for receipt of stolen property varies by state, but can include fines, jail time, restitution to the owner, and probation. In Canada you can get up to ten years of jail time, and if you later sell a stolen motorcycle you could get up to fourteen years of jail time.

Luckily, there are easy ways to make sure that a motorcycle isn’t stolen, and they’re free! The first thing you’ll need is the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN#).  The VIN# is usually located on the right fork stem (sometimes called steering stem) on the front of the bike. See (1) in the illustration to the right. Every vehicle made to be on the road in North America has a unique VIN#.

Take action: Once you have the VIN#, you’ll want to run it through a free website that will tell you if the vehicle has ever been reported stolen. Americans should enter the VIN# in the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VIN Check database. Canadians should enter the VIN# in the Canadian Police Information Center Vehicles VIN Search page.

How to replace a lost motorcycle ownership and get a new registration?

You have three options, depending on your situation:

Option A) You own the vehicle and lost the ownership

Option B) You are buying the vehicle and the owner is trying to be helpful

Option C) You are buying the vehicle and owner can’t or won’t help you

Option A) You own the vehicle and lost the ownership

If the motorcycle is already registered in your name, and you’ve lost the ownership, all you need to do is go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Ministry of Transportation (MOT in Canada) with a valid piece of photo ID, like your driver’s license, and pay a small amount. In New York state this is about $20, and about $32 in Ontario.

Take action: Go to your local DMV/MOT office with some cash and a valid driver’s license.

Option B) You are buying the vehicle and the owner is trying to be helpful

If you bought a motorcycle with no ownership, the first thing you’ll want to do is reach out to the seller. If you just got home from buying Tom’s personal motorcycle, and he gave you a key, a bill of sale, a motorcycle, and no ownership, give him a call. Let him know that you don’t have the ownership. If he says the ownership is lost, tell him to follow the steps in Option A: he should go to the DMV/MOT and get a new ownership printed. Once he gets that taken care of, he can sign the slip over to you. Tom might be a very busy guy, so you might also want to offer him a case of beer or some other incentive for his time.

Take action: Get the seller to the local DMV/MOT office with some cash and a valid driver’s license.

Option C) You are buying the vehicle and owner can’t or won’t help you

Sometimes the seller may not be able to get a new ownership for you. In my case, I bought a Harley-Davidson Sportster from someone who didn’t give me an ownership. He couldn’t get a new ownership made for me because he owed child support, and some state/provincial laws prevent new ownerships or registrations being issued until child support and tickets are paid in full. I waited months for him to make those payments, until he eventually stopped answering me altogether.

The good news is that I still got the ownership for this motorcycle, even without the seller’s help! Luckily at the time I was working for an international business that had an in-house legal team that I worked with several times a year, so I knew them and explained the situation.

How to get a motorcycle ownership when the seller won’t help you

What I learned from the legal team was very important, and without them I wouldn’t know what to do with the Harley I bought. They taught me that in North America, you can become the legal owner of a vehicle even without the actual ownership being signed to you, but to do that, you’ll need:

An affidavit: The goal of your affidavit is to clearly and concisely state why this motorcycle is yours, what steps you have taken to try to get the ownership yourself, and why you were not successful. It will need to be notarized.

Evidence: For every claim you make in your affadavit, you need some kind of evidence to support the claim, otherwise, it may not be notarized. If you don’t have something easy to screen shot, write a letter stating the facts and have your seller sign it, then the signed letter becomes your evidence.

A motorcycle: Lastly, whoever is notarizing your affidavit may want to physically see the motorcycle in your possession, with keys, bill of sale, and any other proof in hand, and that the vehicle’s description and VIN# match what you claim in your document.

On her way to the lawyer

What you’ll need to make an affidavit that any DMV or MOT office will recognize

The goal of your affidavit is to concisely state the facts and justify that you are the legal owner of the motorcycle, and why you are not able to to have a physical copy of the ownership in your hand.

You can buy the affidavit that I used, and that any DMV/MOT office will recognize, for only $2.99, here, or if you have some legal background and don’t mind drafting this yourself, here’s everything you’ll need in your affidavit you prepare yourself:

  • All relevant dates:
    • Date of purchase
    • Communication dates
    • Date of declaration
  • What the purchase was
    • Year/Make/Model
    • VIN#
    • Purchase price
  • Seller’s information
    • Full name
    • Address
    • Phone number
    • Any other relevant contact details
  • All information relevant to your need for the ownership/registration of this vehicle.
    • Declare that you are the legal and rightful owner
    • Declare the purchase of the motorcycle in question
    • Explain why the ownership was not available at time of vehicle purchase
    • Declare where the motorcycle was last registered (Province or State, and if possible, when)
    • Declare step by step what you’ve done to try to get the ownership, and/or what the seller has done
    • If the seller was unable to help you, explain why

Take action: Buy my affidavit for $3, or create your own based on the information above.

What proof or evidence do I need to include with my affidavit?

Now that you’ve bought my affidavit or created your own, the next step is equally important: Include a piece of evidence for everything that you say.

For example, my affidavit states: “(Seller) was not able to supply the original ownership of the frame as it was lost or stolen during his move.” I provided this screenshot as evidence of that statement:

Evidence

The seller wrote me in an email that he could not get a new ownership because he owed child support money, so I mentioned that in the affidavit and included an a screenshot of the email. You can find all of the evidence that I included in my package if you need it.

How do I get my sworn affidavit notarized?

Once you’ve completed your affidavit and have compiled your evidence, you have a few options for getting your affidavit notarized:

  • From Government Institutions: Local court house and city hall may have a notary on site available to the public. Google search “public notary near me” to see what your options are.
  • From Financial Institutions and Businesses: Credit unions, banks, and businesses like shipping companies may have a notary on site as well.
  • From a Lawyer: Very convenient if you have a great relationship with a lawyer, not so good if you have to pay for it.
  • Online: You can get documents notarized online (Google: “online notary”), but I’m not sure if all DMV and MOT locations will accept a document notarized online.

how to get a document notarized

Whether you go local or online, you’ll need to bring identification with you. If your bank has a notary, they may not even charge you. Public notaries tend to cost about $20. Lawyers are obviously your most expensive option.

Last steps / 5 Step Checklist

  1. Buy my affidavit package to use as a template or create your own
  2. Put together your affidavit package, complete with all evidence
  3. Bring your affidavit, ID, and evidence, keys, bill of sale, to a notary (note: call first to see if the notary will need you to bring the motorcycle as well)
  4. Take your notarized affidavit and the bill of sale with you to the Department of Motor Vehicles (US) / Ministry of Transportation (CAN)
  5. Show the clerk your documents and pay any costs as if it was just a regular used motorcycle purchase

If your motorcycle was last registered in the same State or Province that you’re currently in, that’s it, you’re done!

If your motorcycle was last registered outside of the State or Province, you may need proof of registration from whatever State/Province the vehicle was registered in. In my case, they provided me with a phone number for an Alberta office, and the Alberta office sent a fax to the MOT office I was at directly.

Download my affadavit

You can download the affadavit I used for $3. It comes with both US and Canadian templates, the completed form that I used to see as a sample, along with all evidence I supplied and other instructions. It should work at all DMV and MOT offices once you fill it out.

Questions? Comments?

Have any questions? Leave them in the comments section below. Also, we love hearing about when we’re able to help our readers, so if this helped you, please leave a blurb in the comments section!

About YouMotorcycle

YouMotorcycle is a lifestyle motorcycle blog to be appreciated by those who see motorcycling as a lifestyle and not simply a hobby, sport, or method of transportation. Most of the posts on the site are written by past and present motorcycle industry staff. We remain fiercely independent, innovative, and unconventional. Our goal is to encourage more people to enjoy the world's greatest outdoor sport by helping new riders get started and inspiring current riders to get out more. We motorcycle, do You?

35 comments

  1. How about creating an ownership for a bike that’s never been registered in Ontario? Now that’s a challenge.

    • Hey Jay. Thanks for asking. This is exactly how I obtained the ownership for a motorcycle that was never registered in Ontario. It was however registered in Alberta, but was never Ontario registered. Check out that second last paragraph again:

      If your motorcycle was last registered outside of the province, you have one more step. The Ministry needs a proof of registration from somewhere, in order to complete the transaction. In my case, they provided me with a phone number for an Alberta office, they in turn gave me a second number to call, and that person sent a fax to my Ontario ministry office directly.

      Where have you run into problems?

  2. Just a small point…., you do not have to use a Lawyer for this. You can type up your affidavit and have it “commissioned” by someone like your town clerk. They normally charge a small fee of about 10-15$. All they are doing is checking your legal ID and then witness you signing the document. (They put a letterhead / signature on it also)
    I’ve done this twice in ontario in the last 5 years.

    Way cheaper than seeing a layer i’m sure.
    -jeff

  3. And the very bottom of the affidavit template where its blacked out what info do I put there exactly? I see it says of Toronto Ontario?

  4. What if I was given the owner ship in a trade With the bike but lost it before I put it in my name, I have had the bike for 3 years with out being able to put it in my name cause i wanted to finish the work on it before. But it’s takes a couple years.

  5. i got one for ya .. my fathet came into the picture 4 years ago and gave me his fatboy he passed away 2 years ago and i never got pappers from him and it was registered in quebec and i dont really have lots of information about him what do i do ?

    • Hey Rob, sorry to hear of your father passing. Just modify the exact same script above to suit your needs, and read the other commends as there are some good suggestions and tips here too!

  6. Thanks a lot for this info….. I am going to try it… wish me luck! I will come baqck with the results…. hopefully positive! just one question…. do I have to bring the motorcycle with me to the city or lawyer? Thanks again.

    • The lawyer at my former workplace actually asked me to tow the motorcycle to the office so he could check it out on the trailer so that’s what I did. He took a look, vin# matched the paperwork I gave him, then he approved it. I’m not sure if the city or a lawyer would need the same, might be best to call them directly.

  7. I got a street legal bike for my 14th birthday but since you cant ride on the road at 14 the bike and the ownership went to the back of the barn. and now 20+ years later i still have the bike but no ownership. and at a point in life where i would like to get one whats the best way if any?

  8. My previous tenant left a motorcycle in garage with a key but no ownership. its not operable right now coz it leaking oil but can be fix. how can i get an ownership for this bike? I dont even know where the previous owner now.
    Thanks

  9. I bought a 20 yr. old homebuilt custom trike. Needs to be finished. What do I need to do to get an ownership?

    • All depends on what province or state you’re in.

      • Ontario, Canada. I made a slight mistake. It’s 30 years old.

        • Probably best to look for an article on registering a home built vehicle. This article’s focus is on production motorcycles that simply don’t come with any ownership/registration.

          I’ll try to help though…

          From my understanding, home built vehicles still have to meet all regulations in the Highway Traffic Act. But before you go taking measuring tapes to your headlights and turn signals, I recommend you actually reaching out to some insurance companies and making sure you find a company that will actually register a home built trike first. Insurance companies in Ontario are getting more and more picky on what they will insure. Some people are even being denied insurance for having aftermarket slip-on pipes on an otherwise stock factory bike…

      • And is made from sratch. Has a V6 Buick engine in it.

  10. thanking you for your service I searched for my vin and it’s not stolen

  11. Hi there my name is Budd I bought a crf 150 dirt bike from a gentlemen about 13 years ago I got a receipt but lost it. I am now trying to sell it it has never been registered and the last people looking at it said I cant sell it without proof of purchase. What are mt options ? thanks

  12. My brother in law cleaned out houses when banks repossessed them. One house had a motorcycle, plated, but no ownership. He tried to contact the owner but he had passed and the family wanted nothing to do with it because of bitterness and divorce. I want to buy it from him and register it in Ontario. What can I possibly do with this scenario?

  13. I bought a bike with no papers, in BC. ICBC says I have to mail them to get vehicle records search, which will take 3-6 months, then I have to contact last registered owner once they send me his address. Could I do this with the notarized document and skip that process, or no? Has anyone done this in BC with success?

    • Ask them if they’ll accept notarized documents. They should. Alberta has a similar setup and I was able to use this for getting ownership of a bike from there here in Ontario.

  14. in the section in the bottom “DECLARED before me at” is this the notarized section?

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