Abandoned cars are not an uncommon sight across the United States. While there are no national estimates, certain cities report staggering numbers. For instance, Oakland, California, sees about 17,000 abandoned vehicles every year, and Philadelphia has over 30,000 abandoned vehicles to clean up. These abandoned vehicles not only contribute to urban blight but also can be linked to increased crime rates.
However, if you find an abandoned car on your property, it might not just be a nuisance. There could be an opportunity to legally claim ownership of this vehicle. But how does one go about this process?
What is an Abandoned Car?
The definition of an abandoned vehicle can vary greatly depending on state law. However, a general definition used by many states is a vehicle that has been left unattended on a roadway, public land, or private property for an extended period (often 24 hours) without the owner’s permission. This definition is generally used to allow authorities to take action in removing the vehicle if it becomes a nuisance or safety hazard.
The exact timeframe that defines a vehicle as abandoned can vary. In some states, a car might be considered abandoned after 24 hours, while in others, the period could be significantly longer. For instance, in California, a vehicle is considered abandoned if it’s parked on a public street for more than 72 hours. It’s crucial to check your local laws to understand the specific definitions and timeframes in your area.
Identifying an abandoned vehicle isn’t always straightforward. Many factors can indicate a car has been abandoned, including:
- Accumulated dust and dirt: A thick layer of dust and dirt on a vehicle can be a strong indication that it has not been used or moved for a long time.
- Missing license plates: Most operational vehicles will have valid license plates. If a car is missing plates, it may have been abandoned.
- Corroded brake discs: Brake disc corrosion can occur when a car has been stationary for a long time, indicating potential abandonment.
- Severe damage: If a car has significant damage and appears inoperable, it may have been abandoned.
- Old paper tax discs: While no longer used in some places, old paper tax discs still present in the window of a vehicle can suggest it hasn’t been used for some time.
Remember, these are just indicators. The only way to legally determine if a vehicle has been abandoned is through your local law enforcement or zoning authority.
How to Handle Abandoned Vehicles Legally
If you suspect a vehicle has been abandoned, it’s important to follow the proper legal process to confirm its status and take appropriate action. Here’s a more detailed explanation of the steps involved:
1. Contact Local Authorities
The first step is to contact your local law enforcement agency or zoning authority. This is important as they have the power to legally determine whether a vehicle is abandoned based on local laws.
2. Vehicle Inspection
Once the authorities are alerted, they will usually conduct an inspection of the vehicle. They’ll check for signs of abandonment and assess the overall condition of the car. The presence of dust, rust, flat tires, or broken windows could indicate that the vehicle has been left unattended for a long period.
3. Check Vehicle’s Registration Details
The authorities will also check the registration details of the suspected abandoned vehicle. This can include checking the license plate number, vehicle identification number (VIN), and any other identifiable markings.
4. Attempt to Contact the Owner
If the owner’s information is available through the registration details, the authorities will usually make an attempt to contact the owner. This could be through mail, phone call, or even personal visit. The aim is to give the owner an opportunity to claim the vehicle before it’s deemed officially abandoned.
6. Impounding the Vehicle
If the owner cannot be reached or does not claim the vehicle within a certain timeframe set by local laws, the vehicle may be impounded. Impounding involves moving the vehicle to a government-controlled area, usually a tow yard4.
7. Abandoned Motor Vehicle Certification Form
In some states, once a vehicle is declared abandoned, an “abandoned motor vehicle certification form” must be completed. This document records important details about the vehicle and its removal. Information typically included on the form are the date of removal, make, color, model, location where the vehicle was found, and details of the towing service used. This form serves as a record of the vehicle’s abandonment and the steps taken to address it.
Remember, these steps can vary depending on local laws and regulations. Always consult with your local law enforcement or zoning authority for guidance.
How to Claim Ownership of an Abandoned Car on Your Property
Navigating the process of claiming ownership of an abandoned car on your property can seem daunting. Once you have successfully reported the vehicle to local authorities, there are several steps you need to follow to ensure a smooth transition of ownership. Let’s delve into these procedures and demystify the process.
Apply for Ownership or Consider Auction
Depending on local regulations, you might be able to apply for ownership without purchasing the vehicle outright. However, local authorities may opt to auction the vehicle. To avoid the auction process, you often need to find the legal owner and negotiate to buy the vehicle directly from them.
Seek Legal Advice
Since the process can significantly differ based on local jurisdiction and state laws, consulting with a legal expert is advisable if you’re unsure about any part of the process.
Follow Legal Procedures
Each state has specific laws about claiming abandoned vehicles. Some states may not permit you to take possession of an abandoned car, even if you locate the owner and the title. Therefore, it’s essential to verify these laws with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) before taking any action.
It’s important to remember that unlawfully claiming an abandoned vehicle could result in penalties. So, always make sure you’re adhering to the correct legal procedures in your area.
Can I Take Ownership of an Abandoned Vehicle on My Property?
In conclusion, while it is possible to claim ownership of an abandoned vehicle on your property, the process involves navigating a complex web of legalities and regulations. This includes identifying the vehicle’s owner, adhering to state-specific laws, and potentially dealing with law enforcement.
Despite the potential issues and challenges, understanding your rights and responsibilities can help streamline the process. Always remember to consult with local authorities or a legal expert to ensure you’re taking the right steps in your specific situation.