Abandoned Vehicle Laws in Oregon

••• alpaksoy/iStock/GettyImages

Related Articles

Whether it's the long lost good intentions of an ancient project car rotting away in a remote field or a vehicle intentionally dumped for much shadier reasons, Oregon abandoned vehicle laws offer a pretty robust collection of rules. Laid out in Chapter 98 of the Oregon Revised Statutes, Oregonians can find answers regarding the ownership of abandoned vehicles, how to get those vehicles towed and details on what happens, legally speaking, when vehicles get left in places other than private property.

What Is an Abandoned Vehicle, Legally Speaking?

While the question of "what constitutes an abandoned vehicle in Oregon" may seem pretty straightforward, the truth is that the legal definition varies somewhat according to local laws.

Just for example, the city of Portland considers a vehicle abandoned if it is illegally stored on the street for a period of more than 24 hours, doesn't display valid license plates or appears disabled, dismantled, wrecked or out of operation, as per its City Code. Areas such as Deschutes County echo this 24-hour rule, while Eugene, for instance, imposes a 72-hour limit for vehicles stored on the street.

The city of Albany, on the other hand, leaves the definition a little more open. Its municipal code defines an "abandoned" vehicle simply as one that has been left "unoccupied or unclaimed; or in such a damaged or disabled or dismantled condition that the vehicle is inoperable; or not currently licensed [...] if such a license is required by law." In this case, the local laws don't specify a time frame for considering a vehicle officially abandoned.

Read More: How to Remove an Abandoned Vehicle

Reporting and Liability for Abandoned Vehicles

For vehicles abandoned on the street, calling the local parking enforcement agency typically serves as the easiest way to report the issue. Some cities, like Portland and Eugene, offer online submission forms, allowing citizens to pinpoint the car's location on a map and upload photos.

If a vehicle is abandoned on private property, the law according to ORS 819.280 allows the property owner to request that local authorities remove the vehicle under two specific circumstances: if the car has been appraised at a value of $500 or less and if the property owner is in lawful possession of the vehicle. Even if these qualifications are met, the property owner may still be responsible for paying disposal fees to a dismantler chosen by the authorities.

Otherwise, reporting to the local department of motor vehicles or the police department (some cities have their own abandoned vehicle hotlines) is a safe bet. These enforcement agencies will usually mail a citation to the owner, or the person who allegedly abandoned the vehicle. Once a citation has been mailed to the alleged abandoner, it's not necessarily the end of the line.

Exemptions of Liability When Citations Issued

The Oregon Revised Statutes, Chapter 98, Section 811 offer some ways that individuals who receive the citation can be exempt of liability. To do so, they must submit a certificate of non-liability which states that the vehicle was not in their control at the time of the alleged violation and provide the name and address of the person who was in control of the vehicle at that time. With this information in hand, the owner of the property may dismiss the citation or reissue a notice to law enforcement in the name of the person who was actually responsible for the vehicle when it was abandoned.

Abandoned Vehicles and Ownership

It's only natural that some of the first questions to pop up regarding an abandoned vehicle on private property – also known, in legal terms, as proscribed property – start with ownership. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation (DoT), property owners cannot claim ownership of an abandoned vehicle, even if that vehicle has taken up residence on their property.

Owning a vehicle in Oregon, as is true elsewhere, requires ownership of said vehicle's title, and one does not obtain a title simply because the vehicle is sitting on one's property.

More than that, the Oregon DoT makes it clear that the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is not legally allowed to provide the owner of the property with the name or address of the person who owns the abandoned vehicle.

Oregon Private Property Towing Laws

So, how do you get a clearly abandoned vehicle off of private property before it becomes a giant rusty planter or an unsightly permanent fixture?

In the Beaver State, the Oregon Revised Statutes lay out the legal process for having an abandoned vehicle towed from private property. In fact, ORS Chapter 98, Section 812 explicitly covers vehicle towing in regards to lost, unclaimed or abandoned property.

Following the letter of the law, property owners have to provide a 72-hour notice to move a vehicle in Oregon. They also have take a few steps to ensure immunity from civil liability before having an abandoned vehicle towed. These steps require the property owner to:

  • Affix a note to the vehicle stating that it will be towed if not removed.
  • Allow that note to remain on the vehicle for a minimum of 72 hours.
  • Fill out a form including a description of the vehicle to be towed, a statement confirming that notice has been provided and the location of the property in question.

Interestingly, the Oregon DMV does not provide a form for this process, suggesting instead that the information should simply be written on a separate piece of paper from the notice. The form must be given to the towing company driver who picks up the vehicle, but it should be noted that the tower of the vehicle is immune from civil liability for towing the vehicle if the owner of the property has followed these necessary steps.

The Towing Process

While property owners may not claim ownership of the abandoned vehicle, they can have the vehicle professionally towed after following the aforementioned process. In this case, the car ends up in storage at the discretion of the towing company, which is also entitled to a lien on both the towed vehicle and the contents within. The towing company retains the vehicle and those contents until receiving payment equivalent to the towage service fee, care costs and storage of the vehicle.

Once towed, it becomes the responsibility of the towing company to inform local law enforcement of the location of the vehicle within one hour of it being placed in storage. The tower also needs to give notice to the owner of the vehicle within 15 days if the vehicle is registered in the state of Oregon. If the car's not registered in Oregon, the law requires the towing company to request the title information from the respective state's motor vehicle department and give notice within the same reasonable period.

What About Public Places?

When a vehicle is abandoned on public property in Oregon, state laws detailed in ORS Chapter 819 take effect. These laws allow the applicable state, county or city agencies to remove the vehicle, though the disposal procedures may vary according to local ordinances. Federal laws, of course, trump local laws if the vehicle is abandoned on federal property.

ORS Chapter 98, specifically in sections 810 and 811, also dives into the legal fate of abandoned vehicles in designated parking facilities, such as garages and parking lots. It is, of course, illegal to leave a vehicle at a parking facility if there's a sign prohibiting public parking in plain view. In contrast, private property owners do not need this sort of signage to be present.

Possessory Liens on Abandoned Vehicles

While an abandoned vehicle on private property doesn't instantly equate to ownership, there are some situations in which the ownership of that vehicle may be transferable via a possessory lien, which grants the creditor – in this case, the property owner – the right to keep possession of the property as a security for the payment of debt. The creditor remains in possession of the vehicle until the debtor satisfies that debt. This situation applies when:

  • The abandoned vehicle is owned by a tenant legally responsible for rent and the vehicle has been left on the leased premises; here, the landlord may have a claim to lien.
  • The vehicle was abandoned on private property and removed by request of the property owner; when towed, the tower may have claim to a lien.
  • The vehicle was abandoned when repaired, stored or towed at the request of the owner; the person who repaired, stored or towed the vehicle may have claim to a lien.
  • The vehicle was towed at the request of the applicable state, county or city authority; once again, the person towing the vehicle may have claim to a lien.
  • The vehicle was abandoned at a parking facility and removed by request of the parking facility's owner; the tower may have claim to a lien.

Getting the Title

According to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles, "in most cases of abandoned vehicles, the existing title is not available for transfer." This means that the title will likely be obtained involuntarily from the original owner. As such, the DMV requires satisfactory evidence of the facts entitling the new title applicant to that title.

This can happen when an abandoned vehicle is sold by the authorities at auction, for instance – here, the bill of sale (which indicates that the buyer purchased the car from the appropriate authorities, who themselves followed the letter of the law for the sale) serves as "satisfactory evidence" that the buyer is entitled to the vehicle. Likewise, it can happen when a vehicle is sold through foreclosure to the company who towed it after its abandonment, or through other types of foreclosure sales.

To receive a title for the previously abandoned vehicle in these cases, the applicant must submit the following items to the Oregon DMV:

  • A fully completed Certificate of Possessory Lien Foreclosure.
  • An Application for the Title and Registration (DMV Form 735-226).
  • A title application fee (required within 30 days from the date of purchase).
  • A $7 fee for a physical inspection by Oregon State Police, if the vehicle was last titled in a different state.

Once that title is in hand, the applicant will have officially adopted the once-abandoned vehicle.