How to Get Rid of an Abandoned Vehicle on Your Property

In the ideal world, tenants who move out of a rental property will take all their belongings with them.  Many tenants, however, leave behind all sorts of personal property, occasionally including an abandoned vehicle.  This article discusses how the landlord can lawfully remove the vehicle from the premises without risking exposure to liability for misappropriation or conversion of personal property.  

In short, avoiding personal liability for the value of the vehicle involves inquiry into whether the property is truly abandoned, and strict adherence to the statutory procedures governing removal of the vehicle from the premises.  The landlord has two options:  follow the procedure under the California Civil Code or the removal scheme authorized by California’s Vehicle Code.   

Civil Code Procedures for Removing Abandoned Property

The California Civil Code permits the removal of a tenant’s personal property from the premises if the tenancy has been terminated and the property has actually been abandoned.  Upon meeting those requirements, the landlord must then strictly comply with the procedure set forth in Civil Code section 1983. 

Specifically, the first step in the process involves notifying the former tenant of his or her right to reclaim his abandoned property. It must contain a list of specific information, including the name of the former tenant; the address of the rental premises; when the premises were vacated; and the name, contact information and address of the landlord. The notice must also describe the property in a manner reasonably adequate to permit the owner to identify it. The former tenant must also be told exactly where to claim the abandoned property should he choose to reclaim it. The notice must also advise the former tenant that he may be charged for reasonable storage expenses incurred by the landlord, and include a date by which the abandoned property must be claimed. By California law, this date can be no less than 15 days after the notice is personally delivered or 18 days from when the notice is delivered by mail or email. The landlord will also need to include a section that states that the abandoned property will be sold or disposed of, if not picked up within the provided timeframe.

After the notice period expires, the landlord can keep property valued at less than $700.  The property must be sold at a public auction if it’s valued at over $700, after posting a notice of intent to sell in a local newspaper with general circulation at least five days before the time of sale.  At any point before the time of sale, the former tenant or owner of the abandoned property has the right to claim the items.  If the sale goes forward, the landlord can use the proceeds to cover the costs of storage and advertising expenses. Any remaining proceeds must be remitted to the treasury of the county where the sale took place.

Vehicle Code Removal

California Vehicle Code §22658 allows property owners to remove unauthorized or abandoned vehicles from private property if one of the following conditions exists:

• a 17” by 22” sign is clearly posted at each entrance, stating that public parking is prohibited and that vehicles will be towed at the owner’s expense.  The sign must contain the telephone number of the local traffic law enforcement agency.

• the vehicle has been issued a notice of parking violation, and at least 96 hours have passed since the notice was issued; or

• the vehicle is on private property and is missing an engine, transmission, wheels, tires, doors, windshield, or any other major part or equipment necessary to operate safely on the highways, the property owner or agent has notified the local traffic law enforcement agency and 24 hours have passed since that notification; or

• the vehicle is parked on a lot or parcel that has been improved with a single-family residence.

Improper removal of a vehicle from private property may subject the property owner and/or manager to civil and criminal liability. A property owner or manager may be liable for two to four times the storage or towing charges for failure to comply with applicable requirement. A property owner may also be liable for vehicle damage if caused by any intentional or negligent act of any person causing the removal, or removing, the vehicle. However, the tow company will be solely liable for any damage to the vehicle that occurs during transit from the property to the storage facility.

By meeting the requirements of Civil Code section 1983 or Vehicle Code section 22658, private property owners and managers can remove unauthorized or abandoned vehicles on their property and avoid exposure to liability.

Please contact Lynx Legal Service with any questions regarding the above, and for all your eviction needs.  We can be reached at 888-441-2355 or  Our experienced professionals are standing by to start your case or answer any questions you may have. 

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