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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Valley cracks down on junk cars

A chronic nuisance property in August 2021 along Best Road in Spokane Valley.  (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Valley is cracking down on people who own multiple junkers or unlicensed cars.

The Spokane Valley City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed an ordinance that makes it illegal, in some circumstances, for people to own more than one junk car or unlicensed vehicle.

Mayor Pam Haley said Valley residents have been clamoring for a stricter junk car and unlicensed vehicle ordinance.

“This is the biggest complaint that we get from our citizens, barring none,” she said.

Council members have long argued that car hoarding hurts property values, public health and neighborhood aesthetics. The City Council in the past two years has spent significant time and energy working on its nuisance laws, in hopes of forcibly cleaning up properties that are unkempt, falling apart or repeatedly associated with criminal activity.

Spokane Valley law hadn’t previously mentioned unlicensed vehicles, but it did address junkers. Property owners had been allowed two of them in residential areas, so long as they were hidden from view.

According to city law, a vehicle is a junker when it meets three of the following four conditions: It’s 3 years or older; it’s extensively damaged; it’s apparently inoperable; it’s worth nothing more than the scrap metal it contains.

Property owners can have an infinite number of junk cars or unlicensed vehicles so long as they’re kept in a garage.

The new law also makes it illegal to keep a broken golf cart or vessel out in the open. Spokane Valley law had banned people from storing broken jet skis, snowmobiles, planes “and the like” in their yards.

Al Merkel, a newly elected city councilman who will take office in January, said he’s generally supportive of stricter junk car regulations.

“I am in favor of doing something,” he said, while adding he doesn’t want the law “to be so vague that it becomes something neighbors use against other neighbors unreasonably.”

Merkel said he hopes the updated city code won’t negatively affect people who work on classic cars or repair their own vehicles.

Councilman Arne Woodard said he believes the stricter law will help the city’s code enforcement staff go after “bad players.”

“I’m not trying to crack down on hobbyists who are restoring cars,” he said.

Woodard said he hopes the council will continue to strengthen its nuisance laws.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s still got to be cleaned up in the Valley,” he said. “This is just one section of it.”