'Ock, where's my car?'
January 29, 2003 4:05 PM   Subscribe

An Edinburgh man got back from holiday to find his car had gone missing. It hadn't been stolen. It had been moved by the local council because it was obstructing some drain and hadn't bothered to tell him. How far can local government authority really go in matters of personal property? [more]
posted by feelinglistless (36 comments total)
The quote from the council: "We follow an agreed procedure when we need to keep a street clear in order to have access to it. The council issued a temporary traffic order in the street three days before the work was due to begin and cones and extra signs were placed on the street the day before." reminds me of this somewhat:

Mr. Prosser: You were quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at the appropriate time, you know.
Arthur Dent: Appropriate time? Appropriate time? The first I knew about it was when a workman arrived at my home yesterday. I asked him if he'd come to clean the windows and he said no, he'd come to demolish the house. He didn't tell me straight away of course. Oh no. First he wiped a couple of windows and charged me a fiver. Then he told me.
Mr. Prosser: But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.
Arthur Dent: Oh yes, well, as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.
Mr. Prosser: But the plans were on display...
Arthur Dent: On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.
Mr. Prosser: That's the display department.
Arthur Dent: With a flashlight.
Mr. Prosser: Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.
Arthur Dent: So had the stairs.
Mr. Prosser: But look, you found the notice, didn't you?
Arthur Dent: Yes, yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard.'

The issue for me here is that in moving the car they didn't seem to give much thought to the safety of the vehicle; they appear to have moved it somewhere were it could conceivably be really stolen.
posted by feelinglistless at 4:09 PM on January 29, 2003

This is news? This type of crap happens every day in San Francisco. As an added bonus, you get to pay the $150-$200 tow and storage fee yourself, regardless of who may have been at fault.
posted by badstone at 4:09 PM on January 29, 2003

"How far can local government authority really go in matters of personal property?"

Pretty far, I'm thinking.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:10 PM on January 29, 2003

Before I moved out of my apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle a few years back, I got to witness a large construction vehicle used as a makeshift towtruck. Some work needed to be done, and an old toyota was parked in the way (had been there for months). Using a huge front-loader (i think that's what it's called), they slid one of those massive steel plates beneath it, shoving it right under the Toyota's tires, hooked a chain to the bucket of the front-loader, and dragged the plate down the street, with the Toyota riding along. It looked like this was not the first time they'd done such a thing.
posted by kokogiak at 4:33 PM on January 29, 2003

The "police power" of government extends quite far. The traditional formulation is that where the "health, safety, or morals" of the public are at stake, the government can step in and take action. That's the classic fiction behind towing illegally parked cars, for example: they're obstructions, therefore dangerous, therefore towable. Cleaning the sewers falls into the same category: if your car is in the way, they can tow it and charge you a fine to get it back.

The problem here isn't interference with private property -- the town council could quite reasonably have done far worse to the car (see mr_crash_davis's link). The problem is instead the procedure by which they moved the car. This fellow is upset because he didn't get adequate notice of the move -- he was on vacation, so their three-day advance warning wasn't good enough for him. If they'd moved the car because he ignored a sign saying "sewers cleaned on alternate Tuesdays; do not park here on alternate Tuesdays," he'd be getting no sympathy.

Practically speaking, the dumbest thing the town council did was not leave a clear sign behind saying "your car was moved because of sewer cleaning" and telling him where to find it. That would have kept him from panicking when he found it missing and would have taken most of the sting out of the incident. Moving the car wouldn't have been any less right or wrong, but he wouldn't have minded anywhere near so much.

I'm reminded of malpractice. Many malpractice suits arise from cases in which something went wrong during the surgery but the doctor charges the usual fee anyway. Not charging in cases of bad outcomes may not reduce the rate of malpractice, but it does bring down the rate of malpractice lawsuits.
posted by grimmelm at 4:34 PM on January 29, 2003

Wah, wah, wah.

They gave three days notice to residents, and put up a bunch of "Do Not Park" signs the day before. That's quite enough notice.

I think it's a shame they don't have some secure storage area: that'd really be appropriate.

But he was parked on public property, was blocking public works, and didn't move his car. Of *COURSE* it was going to get moved for him. Sheez, if it were any other way, nothing would ever get done in the city.

Weeks in advance notice? Sheeesh. Why not months in advance, then, just to make sure no snowbirds are caught unawares? Years in advance, because, gosh, someone might be on a sabbatical.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:36 PM on January 29, 2003

towing cars that are blocking access to a part of the street that requires maintenance seems like a reasonable thing to do - what's the alternative, just let the roads and sewer systems deteriorate? Have work crews wait around until everyone decides to move their car?
posted by chrisege at 4:40 PM on January 29, 2003

I'm reminded of the scene in Backdraft (imdb) where the firemen get to a raging blaze, and there's an expensive Mercedes parked in front of the nearest fire hydrant.

If you haven't seen the movie, I won't spoil the scene, except to say that it's a good thing the driver probably had insurance.
posted by thanotopsis at 4:51 PM on January 29, 2003

Tough fucking shit dude. The car was not stolen. Sounds to me like that would have done him some good. Reminds me of the guy standing in front of my house with the police at 7:00 am with his car alarm going (it has already been activated at 2:00 am; this time by his own doing):

Me: Wanna turn that thing off? People are sleeping.
He: Did you hear it last night?
Me: Hell yeah, woke me up,
He: And you did nothing?
Me: No, I woke up.
He: You didn't call the police?
Me: I don't usually call the cops for every car alarm activated in the neighborhood.
He: You should have called. You're a bad neighbor. (He lives three blocks away!)
Me: Closing door and muttering that when your car is broken into, it should set an alarm off in the owner's fucking precious little head. I think it was a Saab as well...
posted by Dick Paris at 4:51 PM on January 29, 2003

Dick, you could always point out this article to your neighbor.

I'm sure he'd appreciate it.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:55 PM on January 29, 2003

I really don't get how this is a personal property issue since the local department of works gave appropriate notice and all...I don't see how three days is not enough notice. They should cut of his power and/or water and when he asks to have it turned back on they should inform him that he should give them at least a weeks notice when his utilities are going to need servicing.
posted by RevGreg at 4:55 PM on January 29, 2003

Believe me, three days isn't enough notice, especially since, and I don't know what signage is like in the rest of the world, but over here it tends to be a rather anonymous laminated prinout strapped to a lamp post that could be about anything.
posted by feelinglistless at 5:07 PM on January 29, 2003

Some cities - San Francisco, for example - have ordinances that say that if a parked vehicle isn't moved at least once every 72 hours (3 days), that it may be considered abandoned, and towed. Of course, they don't bother telling you that, until you come home after a long weekend out of town to find your car "stolen". At least the city workers who moved this guy's car had a good reason...
posted by majcher at 5:14 PM on January 29, 2003

my question... why didn't they just move the car back when they were done?
posted by banished at 5:25 PM on January 29, 2003

that is odd that in england where they have no civil liberties at all (ha) they feel like you can't tow cars. i towed a car once because we needed to repaint the stripes in the parking lot. how do private lots work there?
posted by rhyax at 5:32 PM on January 29, 2003

NHS project manager Steve Shon returned from Austria last week but, to his horror, his new Saab 9.3 was gone.

It's a good thing he didn't come home to find that his home was no longer there.
posted by poopy at 5:35 PM on January 29, 2003

In 1990 I went vacationing with my family in then Czechoslovakia. We had driven down there in our Volvo, and basically drove across the country, living with some Czech friend of ours. At one point, we went to Budjovice (IIRC). Making sure the car was parked legally, we left to see the sights and do a little shopping, but when we came back, alas, the car was gone.

We found a police officer fairly quickly and after explaining how our car was stolen, he told us to calm down - he knew where our car was. So, he directed us to a big fenced in lot outside the city, and sure enough, there it was - unharmed. It costed us about $20 to get it, though.

The funny thing was, that every single car in the lot was Western, and as we got ready to leave with our car, they towed in another car - also from the west. It seemed, they just drove around town collecting the cars of the tourists, making a little money for the local police force!
posted by cx at 5:45 PM on January 29, 2003

This is news? This type of crap happens every day in San Francisco. As an added bonus, you get to pay the $150-$200 tow and storage fee yourself, regardless of who may have been at fault.

Oh yes I know. I had my car towed 5 times and booted twice in 5 years in SF. Stupid BofA parking lot on Fell and Broderick!

As for the Edinburgh man, every city I've ever lived in has a law that a car cannot be parked in teh same place for more than a certain amount of time - usually 48 hours. The guy left his car there longer than that, so he probably could have been ticketed or towed even without the drain issue. If you're parking on the street and leaving town, you've gotta have someone look after your car.
posted by trigfunctions at 6:19 PM on January 29, 2003

In my city, you cannot leave a car parked on the street for more than 3 hours.

So that guy in Edimburg can cry me a river.
posted by titboy at 8:06 PM on January 29, 2003

Not much happens in Edinburgh, huh?

Does the Edinburgh News publish "dog bites man" stories, too?
posted by kewms at 8:30 PM on January 29, 2003

Three hours? That's harsh. What city?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:55 PM on January 29, 2003

"They moved my car to Bonnington Road which lies next to Rosebank Cemetery. There were no cars for 400 metres and my car was sitting on its own."

They could have at least given it another towed-car for company.
posted by lucien at 9:52 PM on January 29, 2003

Twenty-two comments later and nobody's mentioned that this is a real Saab story?

I'm so disappointed.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:04 PM on January 29, 2003

I live near Lake Erie and have to park my car in the street. When it snows, I have to keep moving it every few hours so the plows can clear the roads. Otherwise, it takes a metal detector and a back hoe to excavate it. I wish some tow truck would help out once in a while.
posted by jessicool at 10:51 PM on January 29, 2003

Maybe this is a couple degrees off subject, but it does have to do with personal property and zoning laws: In Coos Bay Oregon two men were charged with 3 counts each of Criminally negligent homicide for violation of zoning/building codes. They are facing 15 years in prison and $300,000 fines for installing an 'oven' and flue pipe which reportedly started a fire in a warehouse; three firemen died fighting the fire. This seems on it's face to be excessive and vengeful. When I lived in Coos County I had a wood stove installed and paid for the permits, but when the fire Marshall came for the inspection he asked me if they had installed a "collar" in the attic and I said yes, so he signed off on the permit without actually looking.
posted by Mack Twain at 11:30 PM on January 29, 2003

The issue here is not that they moved his car but that they failed to tell him. Yes, he was parked on public property, but the number of homes with private parking in Edinburgh is pretty limited, so I'm thinking he was parked the only place he could.

It's not unreasonable to think that someone who has not moved their car despite notices *might* be on holiday. It wouldn't be hard to trace the guy's address and stick something through his door - seeing as they're in his street anyway - it can't be nice coming back from holiday and thinking your car is stolen - not to mention the wasting of police time as I should think the first thing he did was call them.

"Agreed procedure" is no excuse - if that doesn't include for letting people know when you decide to move their car then the agreed procedure sucks. I bet he's wondering why he pays council tax right now.

I'm surprised at the "tough luck" attitude of some of the responses. This is no way for an authority to behave. By all means move the car if you have to - but for God's sake have the courtesy to tell the owner who quite obviously isn't going to know what happened. That's just obvious. Wouldn't even take a lot of work.

Edinburgh, and most UK cities have parking restrictions in key areas so you can't park for more than a few hours, by the way. I don't think this was one of the busier parts of the city.
posted by nthdegx at 12:24 AM on January 30, 2003

In DC, the secret service routinely moves cars when bigwigs show up somewhere unannounced and they need to clear the area for security. The best part is that they don't actually tow the cars away to an impound lot. They usually just move them to a different street somewhere, wherever they can find open spots. And they also don't communicate with the DC police, so the cops have no idea where your car might be. So then of course you report it stolen, and find it six blocks away later on and forget to un-report it stolen, and next time you try to drive it the cops pull you over for stealing your own car.

So some guy in Edinburgh's car got towed, eh? Honestly, the UK is so cute sometimes. I bet he got all worked up and wrote a nasty letter to his MP, with lots of really biting sarcasm.
posted by rusty at 1:23 AM on January 30, 2003

So some guy in Edinburgh's car got towed, eh? Honestly, the UK is so cute sometimes. I bet he got all worked up and wrote a nasty letter to his MP, with lots of really biting sarcasm.

Just because you put up with that sort of thing in DC doesn't mean that moving cars without informing the owners is any less wrong.

Us residents of "cute" UK have every right to complain. It's a damn sight better than being brainwashed into thinking that what happens in DC is "normal".
posted by ralawrence at 2:58 AM on January 30, 2003

Hahahah. A man's car got moved cos it was blocking a drain. Oh, such an infringement of human rights.


What a joke.
posted by ed\26h at 3:16 AM on January 30, 2003

My car never bothers to tell me when it moves either.
posted by BinkyF at 5:35 AM on January 30, 2003

They do this in most US cities all the time!

Cars that get towed get reported to cops as having been towed and who towed it. So when someone calls in a stolen car, the cops run a check. If it has been reported towed, they give the tel no of the tow company.
posted by Witold at 6:51 AM on January 30, 2003

Poor Edinburgh City Council. Damned if they tow, damned if they don't.
posted by rory at 6:54 AM on January 30, 2003

Happened to me a few years ago. I was out of town, my car was parked on the street outside my apartment, they posted signs a couple days before they were due to trim the trees, and I didn't see it due to being out of town, and my car got towed.

However, they never notified me that the car had been towed; the only reason I knew it had been was because my boyfriend happened to look outside and see that my car was gone and asked the workers what happened to it.

The thing is, they usually know well in advance when they're going to be doing annual work like tree trimming or street maintenance, so I don't see why it would be too much trouble to send out a boilerplate letter to all residents letting them know the approximate dates of such work.
posted by eilatan at 7:05 AM on January 30, 2003

I'll re-iterate the question again. Why didn't they move it back?
posted by feelinglistless at 10:19 AM on January 30, 2003

Twenty-two comments later and nobody's mentioned that this is a real Saab story?

Your right, as he left home and came back home, to SAAB.

Now what kind of home do you have that you can't trust a neighbor with a set of keys in case an emergency like this happens?

Maybe a moral here. Use of your neighbors can can create a community called home.

PS, we are talking about the cleaning of gutters not major road work. So if it was that important to move the car you should give better notice in advance. Other wise use a broom to get the trash from under the car as it is a no-brainer solution.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:59 AM on January 30, 2003

NHS project manager Steve Shon returned from Austria last week but, to his horror, his new Saab 9.3 was gone.

the horror ! the horror !
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:35 PM on January 30, 2003

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