June 30, 2005

Old Vehicles – Are They Fixer-Up Projects or Public Nuisances?

Old cars are the topic of countless television programs, magazines and other publications focusing on rebuilding the roadsters. But when these potential classics are simply tossed aside they turn from a project into a hazard.

In the City of Memphis the open storage of inoperable vehicles or other vehicles deemed by the City to constitute a public safety hazard, is prohibited under Section 220.050 of the city code.

Literally interpreted, the law means that if you have a vehicle, which currently is incapable of starting and running, sitting in your driveway, you are in violation of the ordinance.

Practically interpreted, the city code regulates abandoned vehicles. Any vehicle left unattended on a city street may be towed after 48 hours.

But law enforcement doesn’t have to stop at the public roadways. The ordinance empowers the police department to authorize towing from private property any motor vehicle deemed a public safety hazard, or considered derelict junk, scrapped, disassembled or otherwise harmful to the public health.

Obviously the city code isn’t meant to prevent property owners from owning motor vehicles, or working on these cars and trucks. However, the code does give the city the power to act when junk vehicles on private property begin to affect appearances or public safety.

The law offers property owners options to maintain the status quo. The law states the city has no authority to tow a vehicle that is completely enclosed in a building, or a locked fenced area not visible to adjacent public or private property. The law gives no authority on property licensed as salvage, swap, junk dealer, towing or storage facility so long as the business is operated in compliance with the business license and meets all zoning ordinances.

While the ordinance can be targeted at cleaning up the city streets, it doesn’t take the property owner off the hook. If an abandoned vehicle is towed, the property owner is responsible for payment of all reasonable charges for towing and storage of the abandoned property.

If the towed vehicle is not claimed within 10 working days a paperwork process begins to determine ownership. The Missouri Department of Revenue is contacted in an effort to determine ownership. Ultimately the city gains the power to sell the abandoned property if no ownership is established.

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