Abandoned Cars on Private Property

An abandoned vehicle can be a nuisance and an eyesore. No matter the reasons a vehicle is left on private property, such things take up space causing countless problems as well as being a blot on the landscape.

What’s an abandoned car?

Any motorized vehicle left on private property for an extended period may legally classify as abandoned. Details will vary by location, municipality, state, and the codes and statutes of your area but any motorized vehicle left on your property for 48 to 72 hours or more is usually considered abandoned. With the consent of the private property owner a car may stay as long as the owner consents, however, without oral or written consent, it becomes up to the owner of the space to remove it. (Note: it’s generally the same for public properties, but there are nuances.)

What do you do if someone leaves a car on your property?

The easiest thing to do is also the kindest: take a moment to ask your neighbors if they know who owns the vehicle you wish to remove. Perhaps someone left it there by mistake or because they broke down. Often, this will solve the problem. You can also post on social media groups local to your area hoping someone has answers.

If legwork reveals nothing, your next step is taking note of the make, model, color, license plate, and any other striking markers on the car. Next, visit or call your local police or sheriff’s departments and tell them you have an abandoned vehicle on your property and offer a description of the vehicle. It may be stolen or involved in something else the police know about, and that could solve your problem as they’ll usually tow it.

If that yields nothing, it’s vital to research the codes and ordinances regarding private property and abandoned vehicles where you live – criteria for what constitutes an abandoned car changes from place to place. (Usually by the amount of time it takes to be considered abandoned.) A simple Google search will tell you a lot, or you can ring your local government for directions and instructions on what to do next. This step is critical because even though it’s on private property, you want to be sure to handle it legally to avoid any complications. Armed with this knowledge, you can protect yourself and your property.

How to get an abandoned car towed

As long as the vehicle is definitely on your private property and has been there for the amount of time allotted by your local government that classifies it as abandoned, you can have it towed. Some will do it for free as long as they can claim the vehicle, but others will charge you a fee. If the owner of the car, truck, motorcycle, boat, RV or whatever was left on your property comes looking for it, you can give them the name of the tow company, and they can take it from there. Remember, it’s essential to investigate the laws so people cannot make a claim against you in court!

How to claim ownership of an abandoned vehicle

Let’s say you want to go a different way than just having it towed away. Could you claim the vehicle as your own? This is a potentially lengthy but also potentially profitable thing to do.

Most areas have a waiting period before you can legally claim an abandoned vehicle. Again, researching the laws is a must. Some states require you prove what is called a “good-faith effort” to find its owner. Other states require that abandoned vehicles, on private or public property, fall under the purview of the police. In most cases, there’s a waiting period before you can claim the car and in some areas, like Washington State, the most anyone can do is have the abandoned vehicle towed away.

How to get the title for an abandoned vehicle

The best thing to do is look at the DMV website for your state and see the list of requirements. Generally, you’ll need to gather proof of good-faith that you tried to find its owner along with the fees and any paperwork your state requires. Then submit an application as well as all above for the title certificate.

As headache-inducing at it may seem to deal with an abandoned car on your private property, there are laws and systems in place to help you. You can have it towed, or claim ownership and auction it off, or repurpose the vehicle in some way that works for you. And if abandoned cars on your property is a constant problem, you may want to invest in a big sign that says, “Abandoned vehicles will be towed!” Owners will know it’s their loss for being negligent, and possibly your gain.

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