November 29, 2004
STATE LAWS ON ABANDONED MOTOR VEHICLES
By: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst
You asked if there are any state laws that require the removal of abandoned motor vehicles. You also wanted to know if there is a state authority that can be involved to force a municipality to be more aggressive in removing abandoned vehicles.
There are several laws covering the removal of motor vehicles by public officials. The primary law establishes the requirements for removal of vehicles by state or local police officers or Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) inspectors when a vehicle is discovered that is either (1) a menace to traffic, public safety, or public health or (2) apparently abandoned or without proper registration. In the first case, the vehicle may be removed immediately and stored in a suitable place. In the second instance, it may be removed after 24 hours following posting of a notice on the vehicle warning of the impending removal and providing other required information. The law has a provision that allows title to vehicles with virtually no value as motor vehicles to pass immediately to the agency removing them, thus making it easier for municipalities to dispose of abandoned hulks. A related law extends the authority to enforce these statutory requirements to state marshals and constables.
Another law gives municipalities the authority to remove any abandoned, inoperable, or unregistered vehicle within its town limits that has not been moved for 30 days, but it does not require them to remove such vehicles. Before removing the vehicle under this authority, the municipality must notify the person on whose property the vehicle remains requesting its removal and publish a newspaper notice.
While some municipalities may act aggressively when dealing with abandoned vehicles, others may not. However, it is mainly a local matter. While municipalities may act to remove abandoned vehicles under the laws explained in this report, they sometimes also approach the problem through their public health ordinances as a public nuisance. While the DMV plays a role in the process agencies removing abandoned vehicles must follow when disposing of them, we found no state authority that would become directly involved in making municipalities be more aggressive in removing abandoned vehicles within their town limits. Presumably, if the situation in a particular municipality was bad enough to present a possible public health hazard, the state Department of Public Health might try to encourage action on the hazard through the local health director.
It is illegal for anyone to abandon a motor vehicle for more than 24 hours within the limits of any highway or on property owned by another person without his consent (CGS § 14-150). Any state or local police officer, or any DMV inspector, who discovers any motor vehicle situated either “within or without any highway of this state” that he considers a menace to traffic, or to public health or safety, must take the vehicle into custody and store it in a suitable place. This can be done immediately.
If any of these officials discover a motor vehicle that is apparently abandoned or without proper registration within or without a public highway, the officer or inspector must place a sticker on it in a visible location indicating (1) when the sticker was placed on the vehicle, (2) that if the vehicle is not removed within 24 hours it will be taken into custody and stored at the owner's expense, (3) the location and telephone number where additional information can be obtained, and (4) the identity of the officer or inspector who put the sticker on the vehicle (CGS § 14-150 (c)). After 24 hours, the department that discovered the vehicle and affixed the sticker must remove the vehicle. If the vehicle has been reported stolen, the agency taking it into custody must make a reasonable attempt to notify the owner before taking it into custody.
When a vehicle is taken into custody under either of the above scenarios, the agency that took it into custody must notify the vehicle's owner, if known, within 48 hours by certified mail. Among other things, the notice must state that the vehicle may be sold after 15 days if its market value is not more than $1,500 or 45 days if its value is more than $1,500, and that the owner has a right to contest the taking of the vehicle in front of a hearing officer named in the notice within 10 days from the date of the notice. The chief executive officer of each municipality must appoint a suitable person who is not a member of any state or local police department to act as such a hearing officer. Municipalities may join to appoint a hearing officer, but any hearing must be held in a place that is as near to the town where the vehicle was taken as is reasonable and practicable. A hearing officer's decision may be appealed to the Superior Court within whose jurisdiction the hearing was held within 15 days of the notice of the decision (CGS § 14-150(f)).
A special provision was added to the law in 1987 that allows title to certain vehicles with essentially no value as motor vehicles to vest immediately in the agency that removed them. This was added primarily to make it easier for municipalities with significant numbers of abandoned vehicle hulks to deal with them. Under this provision, if a police officer or DMV inspector finds a vehicle with no registration plates or with invalid registration plates and the officer or inspector makes a determination in good faith that (1) it is apparently abandoned; (2) its market value in its current condition is $500 or less; and (3) it is so vandalized, damaged, or in disrepair that it is unusable as a motor vehicle, title to the vehicle passes immediately to the agency removing it. The agency must provide a notice to DMV within 48 hours that contains the vehicle's description and its vehicle identification number. When it sells or disposes of the vehicle, the agency must notify the owner, if known, and must return to him any of the proceeds that exceed the costs of towing, storage, and sale and any fines due if the owner claims them within one year. After one year, all the proceeds go to the municipality. If these costs and fines exceed the proceeds of the vehicle's sale or disposition, the vehicle's owner is liable to the municipality for the excess amount (CGS § 14-150).
A related law gives state marshals and constables the same authority with respect to the above requirements as DMV inspectors and state or local police officers (CGS § 14-151). Also, another law authorizes municipalities, by action of their legislative bodies, to provide for the removal of abandoned, inoperable, or unregistered motor vehicles within
the limits of the municipality that have not been moved for 30 days after (1) notice to the owner of the property on which the vehicle remains requesting removal of the vehicle and (2) notice in a newspaper with substantial local circulation. The town's legislative body must designate the local board or officer who is responsible for notifying the property owner and providing the newspaper notice (CGS § 14-150a).