Lafayette hopes to soon resume hauling off junked vehicles

City-parish government could soon begin hauling junked vehicles from private property after halting the practice six years ago when a law aimed at the eyesores was challenged in court.

The city’s legal department is now putting the final touches on a revised junked vehicle law that should pass legal muster, City-Parish Attorney Michael Hebert told City-Parish Council members Tuesday.

“These have been a major nuisance for some time,” said Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who has been pushing for a return to the days when city-parish government was targeting junked cars and trucks that sit rusting and neglected in yards.

In 2007, when the old law was last enforced, city-parish officials had reported tagging about 1,600 vehicles for removal, with city-parish government towing away about 25 cars and trucks after property owners refused to remove the vehicles.

Boudreaux said many residents have just had to accept the eyesores since city-parish government has had no enforcement power.

“It’s still a very devastating issue,” he said.

The old junked vehicle law prohibited people from “abandoning, wrecking, dismantling, partially dismantling, rendering inoperable or discarding any motor vehicle” on their own property or someone else’s property.

The law was challenged by George Phillips Jr., who filed a lawsuit in 2007 to contest the city-parish government’s seizure of four seemingly inoperable vehicles parked on rental property he owned.

Phillips had argued, among other things, that the city’s criteria were too vague for determining what should be considered a junked vehicle, and a judge’s pre-trial rulings in the case favored Phillips.

City-parish government paid Phillips $70,000 in 2012 to settle the case out of court, and officials pledged at the time to rework the law to address the legal questions.

Hebert said Tuesday his staff has been reviewing junked vehicle laws from other areas to develop a more specific definition what should be considered a junked vehicle.

A key provision of the new law is an administrative hearing process to allow owners of alleged junked vehicles to contest violations, Hebert said. The old law contained no provisions for administrative review.

Hebert also said the new junked vehicle law will strip a portion of the old law that exempted vehicles kept in enclosed areas.

The judge in Phillips’ lawsuit had ruled in pre-trial hearings that the exemption for enclosed junked vehicles might discriminate against people who don’t have a garage or some other enclosed area to keep their junked cars and trucks.