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One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Treasure: Abandoned Vehicles

Abandoned Vehicle

Whether you’re in a major metropolitan area, or a small rural community, one thing all Texas cities have in common is the existence of unwelcome abandoned vehicles. Abandoned cars, trucks, and RVs are not only an eyesore to most members of the community but can be a particular nuisance when occupying valuable parking spaces in residential areas or prominent public gathering places. Luckily, the law provides Texas municipalities with specific steps for removing and disposing of these unwanted vehicles.

In Texas, a motor vehicle is considered abandoned if it:

  1. Is inoperable, is more than five years old, and has been left unattended on public property for more than 48 hours
  2. Has remained illegally on public property for more than 48 hours
  3. Has remained on private property without the consent of the owner or person in charge of the property for more than 48 hours
  4. Has been left unattended on the right-of-way of a designated county, state, or federal highway for more than 48 hours
  5. Has been left unattended for more than 24 hours on the right-of-way of a turnpike project constructed and maintained by the Texas Turnpike Authority division of the Texas Department of Transportation or a controlled access highway
  6. Is an impounded commercial motor vehicle at a vehicle storage facility and the delinquent administrative penalty has not been paid to the Texas Department of Public Safety by the 11th day after being impounded.

Sec. 683.02(a) and Sec. 644.153(r) of the Texas Transportation Code.

Importantly, unlike junked vehicles (which are usually inoperable or unregistered vehicles that present a public nuisance), to be considered abandoned a vehicle must only be left unattended without permission on private or public property. Additionally, while state law allows cities to adopt their own ordinances with procedures for regulating junked vehicles as a public nuisance (including enforcing fines up to $200), the Texas Transportation Code outlines specific procedures for removing and disposing of vehicles which have been abandoned (even if not necessarily considered junked).

Step 1: Removing an Abandoned Vehicle

A city police department or other law enforcement agency may remove an abandoned motor vehicle found on private or public property.  The department may use its personnel, equipment, and facilities to remove, preserve, store, send notice regarding, and dispose of an abandoned motor vehicle taken into custody.  The department may also contract for other personnel, equipment, and facilities.  Sec. 683.011 of Texas Transportation Code.

Step 2: Posting Notice

The city police department must send notice of the abandonment to the last known registered owner and each lienholder of the vehicle. The notice must be sent by certified mail not later than the tenth day after the date the department takes custody of the abandoned motor vehicle. Sec. 683.012 of Texas Transportation Code. The department must also notify any person who has previously filed a theft report on the abandoned vehicle that was taken into custody.  This notice must be sent by regular mail on the next business day after the department takes the vehicle into custody. Sec. 683.012(f).

Step 3: Sale, Transfer, or Use

If an abandoned motor vehicle is not claimed after 20 days of sending the appropriate notice, the city police department may sell the vehicle at public auction, transfer the vehicle, use the vehicle for the department, or transfer the vehicle to any city, county, or school district. Sec. 683.014 and Sec. 683.016.

If the city police department auctions the abandoned motor vehicle, proper notice of the auction is required. Sec. 683.014(b). The money received from the auction may be used by the department for the cost of the auction, the towing and storage fees, and the cost of notice or publication. Sec. 683.015.

Step 4: Disposing of an Abandoned Vehicle

Another option a city may wish to take is to simply dispose of the vehicle. Under the law, a person (including an entity or unit of government) may apply to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (“Texas DMV”) for authority to dispose of a motor vehicle if the vehicle is abandoned and in the possession of the police department. Sec. 683.051. To do this, the city must first apply to the Texas DMV for a Certificate of Authority. A Certificate of Authority facilitates the transfer of a motor vehicle to a motor vehicle demolisher for the purposes of crushing and destroying the motor vehicle.

If a city applying for authority to dispose of the motor vehicle is not the owner on record or does not have evidence that ownership has been transferred to them, the Texas DMV is required to make a notification to any owners and lienholders the department is able to identify by First Class Mail. If the Texas DMV is unable to locate a motor vehicle record, the notification is posted on this webpage. In either scenario, the owner(s) and lienholder(s) have 20 days to claim the motor vehicle. If the vehicle remains unclaimed, the certificate of authority is issued on the 21st day after the notification is mailed or posted on this page.

Once the city obtains the Certificate of Authority, it may transfer the abandoned vehicle to a motor vehicle demolisher for destruction.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. 

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