Seattle, WA - A judge ruled that a homeless man who had lived in his truck for five months on a city street could not have his truck legally impounded.
After his truck had been parked and inoperable for more than five months in the fall of 2016, police approached Long and told him he had to move it.
Officers notified parking enforcement, and gave him 72 hours to relocate the truck.
Long said he couldn’t afford to fix his truck, and tore off the impound sticker and left it parked where it was.
After giving the man four days to fix and move his truck, a parking enforcement officer had the vehicle towed on Oct. 12, 2016.
The city waived the tickets and cut Long’s towing and impound fees in half at the impound hearing, when he told them he was homeless, but he still couldn’t afford to pay the $557 tab, according to the Seattle Times.
Long sued the city in Seattle Municipal Court and lost, so he appealed.
On Friday, King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer ruled that impounding Long’s truck violated the state’s Homestead Act because he was living in it.
The 123-year old Homestead Act was a frontier-era law that said the government can't force anyone to sell their home to satisfy debts. Long’s vehicle would have been sold by the city had he not entered into a payment plan, the Seattle Times reported.
"It's one of the first big victories in the area of vehicle residency in particular," Columbia Legal Services lawyer Ann LoGerfo told KIRO.
Shaffer also ruled that the fees the city made Long pay were too high and violated constitutional protections against excessive fees.
“We believe this case has a lot of implications for other people using their vehicles as homes,” said Ali Bilow, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services who represented Long.
The judge’s ruling could present problems for the city.
Police and parking-enforcement officers would have to determine whether an empty vehicle had simply been abandoned or if it was someone’s home, said Assistant City Attorney Michael Ryan.
“Someone could park right here in front of the court house on Fifth Avenue, and we couldn’t tow them, or if we did tow them, we couldn’t put them in impound,” Ryan said in court. “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.”
The city attorney’s office has not decided if it would appeal the case.