What Should You Do If Tenants Leave Behind Motor Vehicles?

Motor vehicles are treated differently from ordinary personal property left behind by tenants. In most states, a motor vehicle left behind is considered an abandoned vehicle and should be reported to local police. Your law enforcement will then handle the filing, removal, and return of such vehicle.

Take California as an example. If the tenant has abandoned their vehicle on the the street in front of your property, you should call the local police, giving information about the vehicle’s license number, brand, make, and model, and location. If the car is parked on the street, the police will arrange it to be towed away in 72 hours, placing a notice to that effect on the windshield. (Vehicle Code § 22651(k).) If the vehicle is parked on your property, you can notify the police and have it be towed away within 24 hours after the notification if the vehicle is lacking "an engine, transmission, wheels, tires, doors, windshield, or any other major part or equipment." Otherwise, the police may still arrange for the vehicle’s removal after an officer decides it is abandoned and tags it.

Some cities handle the situation a little differently. In some, a small fee is charged for towing the vehicle, but in many others, the city recovers towing and storage costs from the sale of the car. According to some landlords, the police have delayed towing motor vehicles which are abandoned on private property and have told landlords that they are liable to arrange a lien sale. If a car is worth something, this is a viable option, as you can use the money you get from the sale to fulfill any judgment you have against the tenant. However, it requires a fair amount of paperwork and is often more trouble than it’s worth. Your best approach is usually to insist that the police help you. Obtain a copy of the local abandoned property regulations and refer to it if the police refuse to help.