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S.151

AN ACT RELATING TO ABANDONED MOTOR VEHICLES

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  23 V.S.A. chapter 21, subchapter 7 is added to read:

Subchapter 7.  Abandoned Motor Vehicles

§ 2151.  ABANDONED MOTOR VEHICLES; DEFINED

(a)  For the purposes of this subchapter, an “abandoned motor vehicle” means a motor vehicle that has remained on public or private property or on or along a highway without the consent of the owner or person in control of the property for any period of time if the vehicle does not have a valid registration plate or ascertainable vehicle identification number.

(b)  Construction equipment.  A vehicle or other equipment used or to be used in construction or in the operation or maintenance of highways or public utility facilities, which is left in a manner which does not interfere with the normal movement of traffic, shall not be considered to be an abandoned motor vehicle.

§ 2152.  AUTHORIZED REMOVAL OF Abandoned motor

              vehicles

(a)  From public property.  A law enforcement officer is authorized to remove or cause removal of an abandoned motor vehicle from public property, and may contact a towing service for removal of such motor vehicle, based  upon personal observation by the officer that the vehicle is abandoned.

(b)  From private property.

(1)  A law enforcement officer is authorized to remove or cause removal of an abandoned motor vehicle from private property, and may contact a towing service for removal from private property of such vehicle, based upon complaint of the owner or agent of the property on which the vehicle is located that the vehicle is abandoned.

          (2)  An owner or agent of an owner of private property is authorized to remove or cause removal of an abandoned motor vehicle from that property, and may contact a towing service for removal from that property of an abandoned vehicle.  If an owner or agent of an owner removes or causes removal of an abandoned motor vehicle, the owner or agent and the towing service, if removed by a tower, shall immediately notify the law enforcement entity in the jurisdiction from which the vehicle is removed.  If the vehicle has not been reclaimed, the towing service shall, not sooner than three days nor longer than five days after towing, notify the local law enforcement entity.  Notification shall include identification of the registration plate number, the vehicle identification number, make, model, and color of the vehicle.  The owner or agent of an owner of  property upon which a motor vehicle is abandoned may remove the vehicle from the place where it is discovered to any other place on any property owned by him or her, or cause the vehicle to be removed by a towing service under the provisions of this subsection, without incurring any civil liability to the owner of  the abandoned vehicle.

§ 2153.  ABANDONED MOTOR VEHICLE CERTIFICATION

(a)  Within 30 days of removal of the vehicle, a towing service which has removed an abandoned motor vehicle shall apply to the department for an abandoned motor vehicle certification on forms supplied by the department of motor vehicles.  An abandoned motor vehicle certification form shall indicate the date of removal, make, color, model, location found, and the name, address, and phone number of the towing service, and a certification of the vehicle identification number, if any, to be recorded by a law enforcement officer.

(b)  Upon receipt of an abandoned motor vehicle certification form, the commissioner of motor vehicles shall attempt to identify and notify the owner of the vehicle as required by section 2154 of this title.   If no owner can be determined by the commissioner within the time period allowed by section 2154,  the commissioner shall issue a certificate of abandoned motor vehicle with appropriate title, salvage title, or both, and the vehicle may be disposed of in the manner set forth in section 2156 of this title.

§ 2154.  IDENTIFICATION AND RECLAMATION OF ABANDONED

              MOTOR VEHICLES

(a)  The department of motor vehicles shall make a reasonable attempt to locate the owner of an abandoned motor vehicle.

(1)  If the abandoned motor vehicle is not identifiable by its registration plates or vehicle identification number, and if no owner can be determined within 21 days of the date of receipt of the abandoned motor vehicle certification form, the commissioner of motor vehicles shall issue a certificate of abandoned motor vehicle with an appropriate title or salvage title.

(2)  If the abandoned motor vehicle is identifiable by its registration plates or vehicle identification number, the department of motor vehicles shall, within three business days of receipt of the form for certification of abandoned motor vehicle, send notice to the last known registered owner and lienholder of the vehicle.  The notice shall be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, and shall advise the last known registered owner of the motor vehicle’s location, and a telephone number where additional information about the motor vehicle may be obtained.  If the receipt is not returned to the department within seven business days, the commissioner shall, by first class mail, send a second notice.   Within 21 days of sending the second notice, the last known registered owner or lienholder may reclaim and retrieve the motor vehicle by presenting to the department of motor vehicles satisfactory evidence of ownership, and paying or arranging to pay any fees or charges authorized by section 2155 of this title.  If the last known registered owner or lienholder fails or refuses to reclaim the motor vehicle within 21 days of the second mailing, the commissioner of motor vehicles shall issue a certificate of abandoned motor vehicle with appropriate title or salvage title.

(b)  An owner or lienholder may reclaim an abandoned motor vehicle by presenting to the department of motor vehicles satisfactory evidence of ownership, and paying or reimbursing, or making arrangements to pay or reimburse, the towing agency, the department of motor vehicles, or the owner or agent of private property, as the case may be, any towing fee or storage charges permitted under section 2155 of this title.

§ 2155.  FEES AND CHARGES

(a)  Towing fees.

(1)  For towing an abandoned motor vehicle from public property, a towing service may charge a fee of $50.00, which shall be paid by the department to the towing service upon the issuance by the department of a certificate of abandoned motor vehicle under section 2156 of this title.  The commissioner of motor vehicles shall notify the commissioner of finance and management who shall issue payment to the towing service for vehicles removed from public property.

(2)  For towing an abandoned motor vehicle from private property, a towing service may charge a reasonable fee to be paid by the owner or agent of the owner of the private property.  The owner or agent of the owner of private property shall be reimbursed for the towing fee by any person who reclaims the abandoned motor vehicle.

(b)  Storage charges.  In addition to any towing fee, an owner or lienholder reclaiming an abandoned motor vehicle may be charged and shall pay a fee for the costs of storage of the vehicle, except that no fee may be charged for storage for any period preceding the date upon which the form for abandoned motor vehicle certification is sent by the towing service to the department of motor vehicles.

§ 2156.  DISPOSAL OF ABANDONED MOTOR VEHICLES

(a)  If the commissioner issues the certificate of abandoned motor vehicle, title to the motor vehicle shall escheat to the state, free from all claims of the owner or prior holder of the motor vehicle, and of all persons claiming through or under the owner or prior holder.  The commissioner shall issue an appropriate title or salvage title to any purchaser of the motor vehicle, at no charge.  Funds received from the sale or salvage of an abandoned motor vehicle by the towing service in excess of the storage charges shall be used to reimburse the payor of the towing fee.

(b)  Except for intentionally inflicted damage or gross negligence, neither the state nor any of its agents or employees shall be liable to the owner for any damage to the motor vehicle during the period in which the state retains custody.

§ 2157.  MUNICIPAL ENFORCEMENT

The provisions of this subchapter shall not preempt any municipal abandoned motor vehicle ordinance.

Sec. 2.  24 V.S.A. § 2241(1) is amended to read:

For the purposes of this subchapter:

(1)  “Abandoned” means a motor vehicle without claimed ownership for thirty days as defined in 23 V.S.A. § 2151.

Sec. 3.  23 V.S.A. § 1753 is amended to read:

§ 1753.  ORDINANCES AUTHORIZING REMOVAL

(a)  The selectmen of a town, the trustees of a village or the board of aldermen of a city may enact ordinances authorizing the removal of motor vehicles parked without authorization on publicly or privately owned land and including, by illustration and not limitation, public, municipal or private parking lots, drives and ways.  The owner of the motor vehicle may be required to pay reasonable towing and storage charges, as determined by the legislative body of the municipality, for which a lien may be imposed against the motor vehicle and its owner, or both, which may be in addition to any criminal penalty.

(b)  All persons who tow a vehicle without the owner’s knowledge shall immediately report the vehicle identification number (VIN) to the local law enforcement entity.  If the vehicle has not been claimed, there shall be a second notice by the towing service not sooner than three days nor longer than five days after the towing.

Sec. 4.  REPEAL

24 V.S.A. § 2272(d) (agency of transportation taking possession of abandoned motor vehicle) is repealed.