Judge Rules That Homeless Man's Truck is His Home

A Seattle man won a recent legal dispute that could have implications on how municipalities across the country address the issue of homelessness, reports The Seattle Times. In 2016 Stephen Young returned from work to find his GMC pickup truck, that he had been living in since becoming homeless in 2014, had been towed because of an ordinance that requires vehicles to be moved every 72 hours. Officers responding to an unrelated call in the area found Young in his truck, which was inoperable and called a city parking enforcement officer who tagged it for impound. At the impound hearing, Long said the truck was his residence and the city waived the $44 ticket and reduced the towing and impound fees from more than $900 to $557.

With the help of Columbia Legal Services in Seattle, Long sued the city on the basis that he had no home for a time; he lost income because work tools he used for day labor jobs were in the truck, and he struggled to pay the fines because he makes between $300 and $600 a month. He lost the initial suit in Seattle Municipal Court, however, won the case on appeal in King County Superior Court last Friday, where Judge Catherine Shaffer ruled that the city’s impoundment of Long’s truck violated the state’s homestead act because he was using it as a home. Shaffer also ruled the fees the city required Long to pay to retrieve the truck were too high, violating constitutional protections against excessive fines and called Long “a poster child … for a lot of other people who are in this situation.”

“We believe this case has a lot of implications for other people using their vehicles as homes,” said Ali Bilow, one of Long’s attorneys with Columbia Legal Services. “I think Seattle municipal judges should follow this ruling and take a hard look when homeless individuals, who are living in their vehicles, are charged these really excessive fees.”

Assistant City Attorney Michael Ryan argued that police and parking-enforcement officers could now find themselves in a bind if they can’t definitively determine whether a vehicle is simply abandoned or is someone’s home. “Someone could park right here in front of the courthouse on Fifth Avenue, and we couldn’t tow them, or if we did tow them, we couldn’t put them in impound. We’d have to put them somewhere else and we couldn’t charge them at all for it because if we did, we’d violate the constitution if they were living in that vehicle,” said Ryan. The city attorney’s office is currently weighing whether to appeal the case.

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