Dealing With Abandoned Vehicles in Your Neighborhood

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

By , Legal Editor

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 can not only be an eyesore, but take up valuable parking spaces in crowded residential areas. They can be a particular nuisance if left in front of your house or apartment so that you have difficulty parking anywhere nearby.

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. Here, we'll discuss how to learn about and follow up on these laws.

Looking Into 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 or start at State & Local. 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, search for "abandoned vehicles" or "disabled vehicles" or check for these topics 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 Planned Community, Check for Homeowners' Association Rules

If you live in a condo or planned unit development, it's entirely possible that your homeowner association (HOA)'s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) contains rules on the subject of where vehicles can be parked and for how long. After all, the HOA rules commonly govern everything from use of the common pool to color of curtains and fencing, in an effort to maintain uniformity and keep up property values.

Let the association board or enforcement authority know if you see an ongoing violation.

See If the Vehicle Belongs to Someone in the Neighborhood

Once you know the law or local rules, see if you can figure out who owns the vehicle. Perhaps it belongs to a neighbor, or a neighbor's friend or relative, or a local business owner. If you can't figure this out, skip to the next section of this article.

If you're able to find this who owns the vehicle, and it's causing a problem—for example, by taking up a valuable parking spot in front of your home—ask the owner to move it (assuming it runs).

Give the owner a copy of local rules on the topic and hope that's the end of the matter. It's entirely possible that the owner 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.

If the vehicle is disabled and the neighbor refuses to deal with it, you might have to escalate the matter; for example, pursue mediation or 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 been 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.

In such a case, contact local law enforcement via their non-emergency number, or check whether your city has an online reporting system for such issues.

What Your Local Police or Sheriff's Office Can Do

When someone in the neighborhood brings the matter to its attention, some law enforcement offices will tow away a vehicle that has been parked for too long, particularly if it appears to have been 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 its make and model, give its license plate number (if available), and state the exact location.

After checking to see whether 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 it. If the vehicle has not been moved within the time limit, the city may impound and/or dispose of it.

In some localities, moving the vehicle simply means driving it for a short distance, such as 1,000 feet; after which the driver can go back and park in the exact same spot for another limited number of 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, contact the local police and give the same information you would provide if reporting another abandoned vehicle. The police will probably arrange to have it towed after tagging it and ultimately determining that it is abandoning.

For More Information

See the book Neighbor Law (Nolo) for advice on talking with neighbors about problems involving their cars or other issues.

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