LAFAYETTE — Police are once again enforcing a law against rusting and broken-down vehicles, seven years after a lawsuit put the anti-blight effort on hold and forced a reworking of the city’s junked vehicle ordinance.
Officers have investigated 82 complaints of junked vehicles since reviving enforcement about four weeks ago, according to figures from Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft.
Of that number, enforcement action has begun for 25 of the vehicles, which could be towed at the owners’ expense if not removed voluntarily, Craft said.
He said 28 cases are still open, and 29 ended with owners removing the vehicles themselves after being told they were in violation of local law.
“Many of the owners contacted (by police) are cooperating and are trying to make arrangements to move the vehicle,” Craft said.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council passed a new junked vehicle ordinance in November, but Craft said it has taken several months for his department to work out a standardized enforcement process, to determine who in the department will be in charge and to print the stickers used to tag junked vehicles for removal.
City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who pushed to get a retooled law back on the books, said he is eager to go “full throttle” on enforcement.
“We have put it back in effect, and because of the layover, there were a number of violations out there,” Boudreaux said.
Enforcement had been on hold since 2007, when a man filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the city’s seizure of vehicles on his property.
City-parish government paid $70,000 to settle the lawsuit in 2012, and the legal staff then began crafting a new version of the law to address the legal questions raised in the case.
The law calls for police officers to notify property owners of a violation and give them a chance to remove the vehicle or fix it.
If nothing is done, city-parish government can tow the vehicle and bill the owner.
Changes in the new junked vehicle law include more specific criteria for determining what is a junk vehicle, a description meant to address questions raised in the litigation about the vagueness of the junked vehicle standards in the old law.
For a violation under the revised law, a vehicle must be inoperable, be at the same site for more than 30 days and show signs of disrepair, such as missing parts, body damage, broken glass or rust.
The new law also removes an exemption in the old law for vehicles kept in a garage, shed or other enclosure.
That change was needed because a judge in the 2007 lawsuit ruled the old law’s exemption of vehicles in enclosures discriminated against property owners who didn’t have an enclosed area to keep their junked vehicle.
When last enforced in 2007, city-parish government was working through a list of hundreds of complaints.
Boudreaux said the renewed effort will start from scratch because so much time has passed.
“The list was purged by default. These 82 reports are all new requests,” Boudreaux said.
He said some complaints about junked vehicles have been dealt over the past seven years as part of more general enforcement efforts on blighted homes and lots, but most have simply not been dealt with.
“For the most part, it has lingered,” he said.