Abandoned Vehicle - How do I make it go away?
Written by Kerry S. Doolittle   
Thursday, 17 May 2012

Question -

I don't know what to do next.  I have abandoned vehicle that have been on my property since Feb.2011.   I 've asked the owner/family to remove excessively over the past year, no response.  Finally I inquired and applied for Abandoned vehicle at Magistrate Court-Denied for over a year past limitation time. I put Ad in local newspaper, sent certified (603) form provided from tag office. Contacted lien holder for storage fee's but they informed me the owner filed chapter 7 and they can't touch vehicle. My question is what do I do next.


Looking back at my previous article about dealing with an abandoned motor vehicle, I realized I went into the details of the process and perhaps failed to make one thing clear.  

Dealing with an abandoned motor vehicle can take some time to accomplish because of the various notice requirements, but most of that process should not involve you as the property owner.  Your task is to understand how to get the process initiated so that the vehicle is removed as quickly as possible.  What happens after that should be the concern of someone else.

The abandoned motor vehicle statutes in Georgia, O.C.G.A. § 40-11-1 et. seq., outline a very specific process.

First, what is an abandoned motor vehicle?  In this context O.C.G.A. § 40-11-1(1) defines “Abandoned motor vehicle” to means motor vehicle or trailer: . . . .  (E) Which has been left unattended on private property for a period of not less than 30 days without anyone's having made claim thereto.  Thus, the first step is to wait thirty days.

They key to initiating the removal process as the property owner is found in O.C.G.A. § 40-11-1 (b), “Any person who removes a motor vehicle from private property at the request of the property owner or stores such vehicle shall, . . . .”  Did you catch the distinction?  This statute is not set up for the property owner to follow the procedures.  It anticipates that a third party, typically a tow truck operator, will remove the abandoned vehicle at the request of the property owner. 

The incentive for the tow truck operator is simply business.  If the owner or a lien holder “redeems” the vehicle, he is paid the accumulated towing and storage fees.  If no one “redeems” the vehicle, he is able to exercise his lien to sell the vehicle to collect his money.  For that reason, and especially with all the information you already accumulated, you should be able to find a tow truck operator familiar with the process and willing to tow the abandoned motor vehicle without charging you up front.  You may find that you have to pay the initial towing charge out of pocket, but do so with the understanding that you are to be reimbursed once he collects from the owner, a lien holder, or a buyer at the foreclosure sale.  Worst case, you are out of pocket the towing charge, but the vehicle is gone.

If a property owner wanted to utilize the removal procedure without calling in a third party, I recommend that they first, familiarize themselves fully with O.C.G.A. § 40-11-1 through O.C.G.A. § 40-11-9, create a checklist of steps to follow, lay out the time line, and find the necessary forms.  Then, treat themselves as the third party by removing the vehicle to a safe storage location and commence the process in the same manner as the tow truck operator.  However, I do not recommend this alternative for two reasons.  First, your lack of experience may cause an error which disrupts the process and wastes a lot of time and money.  In your case you missed the one year deadline.  Second, you are taking on a potential liability when you take possession of that vehicle for storage.  Do you really want to argue with the former owners that some theft or damage occurred while in your possession.  Towing companies have the facilities to store the vehicles, and the insurance to cover their potential liabilities. 

There is another possibility to consider, depending upon the condition of the vehicle.  O.C.G.A. § 36-60-4(a) provides that each county and municipal corporation shall have the authority to provide by ordinance for the removal and disposal of any discarded, dismantled, wrecked, scrapped, ruined, or junked motor vehicles or parts thereof, when requested by the owner or when such motor vehicles are in such a condition that they constitute a health hazard or unsightly nuisance, notwithstanding the fact that such motor vehicles may be located upon private property.  You may be able to request the local code enforcement office to order the removal as a health hazard and unsightly nuisance. 

The filing of a bankruptcy petition and its associated automatic stay can certainly raise a question and create some confusion.  However, you indicated that it was a Chapter 7, which is a liquidation case.  Given the time period you described, a Chapter 7 case may well be completed and closed already.  These cases typically last only a few months compared to the three to five years of a Chapter 13 plan.  A quick check with the clerk of the bankruptcy court regarding the status of the case will inform you whether the case is still pending and when it might be completed.  If the case is closed, it is no longer an issue.  If the case is still pending, then either wait for it to close or check with a bankruptcy attorney to verify that towing and storage in this situation will not constitute a violation of the automatic stay and that the towing and storage fees, which will accrue post-petition, remain enforceable.

As you can see from this brief foray into the subject, it can get quite complicated quickly.  That is why I suggest that you limit your role to that of property owner and make the request to a third party to remove the vehicle.  Let someone familiar with the process take care of it from there.

I hope you find this useful.

Kerry Doolittle