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.