In areas where parking space is at a premium, every space counts. That's why it's important that every vehicle parked there needs to be a vehicle that's actually being used by its owner, and not just being stored there indefinitely.
Most cities, including DC, have abandoned vehicle provisions as part of their vehicle codes, to discourage people from storing their vehicles indefinitely, and to remove damaged or disabled vehicles, or ones that pose a hazard to public safety.
DC’s abandoned vehicle law (DC Code 50-2421.02) defines an abandoned vehicle on public property as one that has been parked or stored for 48 hours or more and meets at least two of the following:
- The vehicle is extensively damaged, including fire damage;
- The vehicle is apparently inoperable, including a vehicle missing its transmission, motor, or one or more tires, and which is not undergoing emergency repair;
- The vehicle serves as harborage for rats, vermin, and other pests; or
- The vehicle does not display valid tags or a valid registration sticker.
I’ve called the Mayor’s Call Center (311 within the district) to report some apparently abandoned vehicles.
One I reported last year had a flat tire and hadn’t moved in months. Initially, the DC employees went out and did nothing. When pressed, they determined that the vehicle served as a harborage for vermin and eventually put a notice on the car. Within a couple days, the car’s tires had been refilled, though the car had not moved. About a week later, the car was gone and I haven’t seen it since.
Another is parked on the 1000 block of 7th Street SE. The car has a broken mirror and a flat tire. I called, but the parking enforcement employees were only able to cite the vehicle for failure to secure DC tags. The car has been there at least 5 weeks, unmoved and unrepaired.
The last car I called about is a pickup truck on the same block. It has a broken front bumper and two flat tires. I don’t have a response from parking enforcement yet, but I expect the result to be the same: the vehicle does not meet the definition of an abandoned vehicle.
I think this experience reflects a deficiency in DC’s abandoned vehicle law. A car that is obviously damaged and hasn’t moved in a week is taking up space that a person with a functioning car should be able to use.
A review of other jurisdictions’ laws agrees with me. For local jurisdictions, Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax consider your vehicle abandoned if it’s been “unattended” for more than 10 days, or if it’s been apparently inoperable for more than 48 hours. Montgomery County will place a notice of tow on your car if it’s been unattended or inoperable for more than 48 hours. Prince George’s County requires that your vehicle be inoperative, parked illegally, or unregistered for more than 48 hours.
Around the US, San Francisco only requires that the vehicle be unattended for more than 72 hours, the same as LA. Philadelphia requires that the car be in an inoperative condition for more than 48 hours. Chicago considers it abandoned if it’s been there for more than 7 days, it’s inoperable, it’s not registered OR it’s a “hazardous dilapidated” vehicle. I tried to look up Boston or New York, but their code interfaces were so terrible I gave up after a couple of hours. I sent emails to the relevant departments; if their laws are more similar to DC’s then I will update.
None of these jurisdictions would allow a vehicle that has two flat tires to remain unattended for weeks. We can argue about how many hours is sufficient, or whether a car that’s been merely unattended for two days should be towed (as in Montgomery County), but I think we can all agree that DC residents should not have to wait for an unattended, obviously damaged car to become infested with rats or for the registration stickers to expire before the government takes action to reclaim that parking place.