Dealing With Abandoned Vehicles in Your Neighborhood

Here’s how to get rid of an abandoned vehicle on your street.

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Wondering what to do about that old car, RV, or truck that’s been parked on your street for over a week now? Abandoned vehicles that are old and beat up can not only be an eyesore, they can take up valuable parking spaces in crowded residential areas. It can be a special nuisance if an abandoned vehicle happens to be taking up the space right in front of your house or apartment, so that you have difficulty parking anywhere near your home. An abandoned car or truck (even worse, an RV) is not only an unwelcome sight to neighbors, it is usually a violation of local law.

Local Laws on Abandoned Vehicles

Your first task is to check local rules regarding vehicle parking on city streets (or county roads, depending on where you live). Almost all cities prohibit leaving any vehicle parked on a city street too long—often defined as more than 72 hours.  

Also, check ordinances regarding disabled vehicles (those that are immobilized because they lack an engine, tires, doors, or any other necessary driving equipment). Typical ordinances require disabled cars to be either put into an enclosed structure, such as a garage, or placed behind a fence. Some ordinances limit the parking of RVs and disabled cars to 72 hours, unless they are enclosed or out of sight.

To find your local ordinance on abandoned or disabled vehicles, check your city or county website. If you can’t find the needed information there, you may be able to find local laws on either State and Local Government on the Net or the Municipal Code Corporation. You can also call your mayor’s or city manager’s office for advice on the issue.

Once you have the local ordinances in hand or on screen, look for the topic of “abandoned vehicles” or “disabled vehicles” in the index or table of contents. Read the law carefully, so you’re clear as to the rules regarding abandoned or disabled vehicles.

If you live in a condo or planned unit development, check out your homeowner association’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) on the subject.

See If the Vehicle Belongs to Someone in the Neighborhood

Once you know the law, check to see whether the vehicle belongs to a neighbor (or a neighbor’s friend or relative) or a local business owner. If the vehicle is causing a problem—for example, by taking up a valuable parking spot in front of your home—ask the vehicle owner to move it (assuming the car or truck runs). Give your neighbor a copy of local rules on the topic and hope that’s the end of the story. It’s entirely possible that your neighbor (or local shopkeeper) is not aware of local rules or the problems caused by leaving a vehicle on the street for a long period of time. Keep in mind, however, that anyone can park their car on a public street as long they comply with state and local vehicle codes (for example, observing street sweeping restrictions). In particular, you have no more right than anyone else to the space immediately in front of your home.

See the Nolo book Neighbor Law, by Cora Jordan and Emily Doskow, for advice on talking with neighbors about problems involving their cars or other issues.

If the vehicle is disabled, and the neighbor refuses to deal with it, you may have to get the police or sheriff involved.

Determine Whether the Vehicle Is Abandoned

If none of your neighbors or nearby business owners know who owns a car that has been on your street for days now, you can probably assume it’s abandoned. That’s especially true if the vehicle is in bad shape, with major parts (such as an engine or doors) missing, flat tires, or expired license plates. If so, contact local law enforcement via their non-emergency number.

Call Your Local Police or Sheriff’s Office

When someone in the neighborhood brings the matter to their attention, some law enforcement offices will tow away a vehicle that has been parked for too long, particularly if it appears to be abandoned. (In some cases, such as a completely stripped or burned vehicle, there will be no doubt of this).

When reporting an abandoned vehicle, be prepared to describe the vehicle’s make and model, give its license plate number (if available), and state the exact location.

After checking to see if the vehicle has been reported stolen, some police departments will place a warning tag on the vehicle, giving the owner a short amount of time, such as 24 hours, to move the vehicle. If the vehicle has not been moved within the time limit, the city may impound and/or dispose of it. In some states, such as California, moving the vehicle simply means driving it for one mile; after which the driver can go back and park in the exact same spot for another 72 hours.

If You’re a Landlord Whose Tenant Has Abandoned a Vehicle

Occasionally, a departing tenant will leave an inoperable car in the parking lot or garage. While states’ landlord-tenant laws often require landlords to provide tenants written notice that they are dealing with abandoned property, these rules don’t typically apply to motor vehicles. If a tenant has left a car or other vehicle behind, call the local police and give the same information you would provide if reporting another abandoned vehicle. The police will probably arrange to have the vehicle towed after determined that it is abandoning it after tagging it.

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