The entertainment industry paints a picture of constant excitement and a never ending supply of dramatic cases with intricate legal issues. In reality, the career of a peace officer is filled with mundane tasks making up the general routine, but sometimes a vital legal issue comes along and prompts much discussion. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those instances as the subject matter for this article is that of parking on private property.
Here is the scenario: a citizen finds a vehicle parked on their property that has not been authorized to do so. The citizen suppresses the urge to slash the tires of said vehicle or otherwise damage it as the citizen realizes that this would lead to their own legal troubles. The citizen then calls for a peace officer to come to the scene. The citizen has expectations that the peace officer will arrive on scene and justice will prevail. Unfortunately, Georgia law is rather mute on the issue in that it does not grant peace officers an effective remedy for this citizen’s predicament. There is a code section that deals with parking spaces provided by merchants (see 40-6-252 O.C.G.A.), but remember, our scenario described a vehicle parked on private residential property. I can find no code section that authorizes a peace officer to issue a citation or remove the vehicle in such an instance.
To muddy the waters even more, in order for a wrecker company to remove a vehicle from private property, the wrecker company must jump through bureaucratic hoops and register with the Public Service Commission (PSC). A wrecker company that has not done so may be fined by the PSC. I know of one company that did indeed receive such a fine in the amount of $2500.00. Please understand that the above refers to non-consensual tows and not the actual owner of a vehicle wanting to have their own vehicle towed. You can read more about the non-consensual towing requirements on the PSC webpage as well as here. Towing companies removing vehicles from private property as part of a law enforcement function such as the recovery of a stolen vehicle or a vehicle being otherwise taken into evidence do not have to be registered with the PSC.
Please note that one of the requirements is that a private property must have a contract in place with a towing company prior to their removing a vehicle. Furthermore, a private property owner who has a vehicle removed incurs certain reporting requirements as well. As we have already discussed, a peace officer has no authority to remove a vehicle from private property simply because the owner does not want it there (exception for places of business as cited above). It is up to the property owner to have a vehicle removed if they so desire.
By now I am sure that some readers are wondering how the criminal trespass code section (16-7-21 O.C.G.A.) applies to such situations. This code section applies when a person enters onto another’s property for an unlawful purpose or they enter or remain on the land or premises of another after having been served notice by the property owner or an authorized agent not to do so. The driver/occupants of the vehicle could be then be charged with criminal trespass, but the vehicle would still be on your property.
Finally, it would be a violation of Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) regulations for an agency to use the system to identify such a vehicle’s owner and then provide that information to the property owner. It would be possible for the property owner to go through the Tax Commissioner’s office to obtain such information; however, providing that information would be a decision made by the respective Tax Commissioner.
I am prepared to stand corrected. If any reader of this finds information to the contrary they are encouraged to bring it to my attention.
While this does not provide an immediate relief to the situation it does provide for a solution in these instances.
I would also say the vehicle is evidence of the crime of criminal trespass. Your suspect may be gone but their vehicle for trespassing is still there and a peace officer may remove it.
(a) If a motor vehicle has been left unattended on private property for not less than two days or on public property for not less than three days without the owner or driver making any attempt to recover such vehicle or to leave a conspicuously placed note that such owner or driver intends to return for such vehicle; or, if a conspicuous note was left, if the motor vehicle has been left unattended for not less than five days and if because of damage, vandalism, theft, or fire the vehicle is damaged to the extent that its restoration to an operable condition would require the replacement of one or more major component parts or involves any structural damage that would affect the safety of the vehicle; or if there is evidence that the vehicle was inoperable due to major mechanical breakdown at the time it was left on the property, such as the engine, transmission, or wheels missing, no coolant in the cooling system, no oil in the engine, or burned fluid in the transmission; or if the vehicle is seven or more years old; or if the vehicle is not currently tagged or is not verifiable by the state as to who is the current owner or lienholder of the vehicle; or if the vehicle has been abandoned to a wrecker service by an insurance company and the owner following the insurance companýs making a total loss payment, then any person removing such vehicle shall within 72 hours of removing such vehicle obtain the identity of and address of the last known registered owner of the vehicle, the owner of the vehicle as recorded on the certificate of title of such vehicle, and any security interest holder or lienholder on such vehicle from the local law enforcement agency of the jurisdiction in which the vehicle was located. If the law enforcement agency shows no information on the vehicle, then a request for such information shall be sent to the Department of Revenue. Within 72 hours after obtaining such information, the person removing such vehicle shall, by certified mail or statutory overnight delivery, return receipt requested, notify the registered owner, title owner, and security interest holder or lienholder of the vehicle that such vehicle will be declared a derelict vehicle and the title to such vehicle will be canceled by the Department of Revenue if such person or persons fail to respond within ten days of receipt of such notice. The state revenue commissioner shall prescribe the form and content of such notice. If the registered owner, title owner, or security interest holder or lienholder fails to respond within 30 days from the date of such notice by certified mail or statutory overnight delivery, and if the vehicle is appraised as having a total value of less than $300.00, the vehicle shall be considered to be a derelict vehicle. The value of the vehicle shall be determined as 50 percent of the wholesale value of a similar car in the rough section of the National Auto Research Black Book, Georgia Edition, or if a similar vehicle is not listed in such book or, regardless of the model year or book value of the vehicle, if the vehicle is completely destroyed by fire, flood, or vandalism or is otherwise damaged to the extent that restoration of the vehicle to a safe operable condition would require replacement of more than 50 percent of its major component parts, the person shall obtain an appraisal of the motor vehicle from the local law enforcement agencýs auto theft section with jurisdiction in the county or municipality where such vehicle is located. Any person removing a vehicle shall complete a form, to be provided by the Department of Revenue, indicating that the vehicle meets at least four of the above-stated eight conditions for being a derelict vehicle and shall file such form with the Department of Revenue and the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction from which such vehicle was removed.
(b) Upon determination that a vehicle is a derelict motor vehicle as provided in subsection (a) of this Code section, it may be disposed of by sale to a person who scraps, dismantles, or demolishes motor vehicles, provided that such vehicle may be sold for scrap or parts only and shall in no event be rebuilt or sold to the general public. Any person disposing of a derelict motor vehicle shall, prior to disposing of such vehicle, photograph such vehicle and retain with such photograph the appraisal required in subsection (a) of this Code section and the notice to the Department of Revenue required in this subsection for a period of three years after its disposition. Such person shall also notify the Department of Revenue of the disposition of such vehicle in such manner as may be prescribed by the state revenue commissioner. The Department of Revenue shall cancel the certificate of title for such vehicle and shall not issue a rebuilt or salvage title for such vehicle.
(c) For purposes of this Code section, the term ‘derelict vehicle’ shall not include a vehicle which does not bear a manufactureŕs vehicle identification number plate or a vehicle identification number plate assigned by a state jurisdiction.
(d) Any person who abandons a derelict motor vehicle on public or private property shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than $500.00 and shall pay all costs of having such derelict motor vehicle removed, stored, and sold as provided for in this Code section. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, such fines shall be disposed as follows:
(1) If the abandoned motor vehicle was removed other than at the request of a peace officer, the moneys arising from the fine shall be divided equally and paid into the general fund of the county in which the offense was committed and into the general fund of the municipality, if any, in which the offense was committed;
(2) If the abandoned motor vehicle was removed at the request of a police officer of a municipality, the moneys arising from the fine shall be paid into the general fund of the municipality;
(3) If the abandoned motor vehicle was removed at the request of a county sheriff, deputy sheriff, or county police officer, the moneys arising from the fine shall be paid into the general fund of the county in which the offense was committed; and
(4) If the abandoned motor vehicle was removed at the request of a member of the Georgia State Patrol or other employee of the State of Georgia, the moneys arising from the fine shall be paid into the general fund of the county in which the offense was committed.
(e) Any person removing a derelict motor vehicle who fails to comply with the requirements of this Code section or who knowingly provides false or misleading information when providing any notice or information required by this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
(f) Neither the State of Georgia nor any state agency nor the person removing, storing, and processing the vehicle unless recklessly or grossly negligent shall be liable to the owner of a vehicle declared to be a derelict motor vehicle pursuant to this Code section or an abandoned motor vehicle.
Question: I have a scooter that was stolen from outside my home. The thieves pushed it to a nearby park, where they were getting ready to push it into a creek. Some witnesses scared them off and called 911. The police, because of the stolen vehicle report I filed, knew it was my scooter that was stolen. However, instead of calling me, they called the towing company and had the vehicle impounded. My question is, is the owner liable for towing charges made from non-consensual towing on government-owned property, where the vehicle, in this case, was abandoned by theft?
What you are describing is not a non-consensual tow. This article concerns the towing of vehicles off of private property by a private party. The tow that you describe is the recovery of a reported stolen vehicle. It’s two different things altogether.
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