Finders keepers, losers weepers. That's not quite an accurate statement of the law in Florida about an abandoned vehicle, but if the prior owner can't be located, the person finding the car can take ownership of it if they are patient and pay the towing and storage fees.
Abandoned Property in Florida
Everybody has lost or abandoned an umbrella along the road of life, but a vehicle? Usually cars or trucks are left on the road when the owners decide that they are more trouble than they are worth, broken or in need of substantial repairs. But if you are handy with cars, or want a particular old car for parts, claiming an abandoned vehicle in Florida might be a great idea.
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File a Property Claim Form
Just because nobody touches a vehicle for months on end doesn't mean it is abandoned. Some people have more than one car and leave the older one parked. So, to get the abandoned car procedure underway, you first must call the police department in the county or town where the abandoned vehicle is located.
If the car is on public property, the police will place a notice on it requiring that the owner move it within a certain amount of time. If nobody moves it, the police will arrange for it to be removed and stored. At this point, you have the option of filing a Florida lost property claim form, saying that you want the car if nobody claims it. Get the form from and file it with the police department.
Track the Former Owner
Once you file the lost property claim form, you have a duty to try to locate the prior owner. Go to a nearby office of the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and ask staff to run a title search and provide the owner's and lien holder's contact information. You will need the license plate number, if the vehicle still has a plate, or the vehicle identification number (VIN). Look for the VIN on the dashboard or door frame.
Send a certified letter to the owner's address with return receipt requested. If you don't hear anything, try locating the owner online or in the phone book. Or, you can publish a small notice in the local papers describing the car and asking for information on who owns it.
If you can't find the owner and the police do not hear from the owner for 90 days, you can claim the vehicle. You will have to pay the towing and storage fees to get the release from the police. With this, you can apply for a finder's title through the Florida DMV.
If you wish to claim an abandoned vehicle in Florida, it may be possible. You have to notify the police, explain that you wish to claim it if the owner is not found, and make a good faith effort to track down the owner. After 90 days, you can claim the vehicle at the police station by paying towing and storage fees.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.