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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Valley looking to crack down on hoarders of unlicensed cars

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

Owners of unlicensed cars beware: Spokane Valley may soon be coming for your vehicles.

The Spokane Valley City Council is considering an update to city law that would, in many circumstances, make it illegal for property owners to have more than one unlicensed vehicle on their land. The council will likely vote on the proposal in the coming weeks.

Council members who want to crack down on unlicensed vehicles argue that the hoarding of cars hurts neighborhood aesthetics and public health. They say car-cluttered properties are eyesores that lower neighborhood property values and attract vermin. Plus, they say unused cars can leak harmful chemicals onto the ground.

Spokane Valley law hasn’t previously addressed unlicensed vehicles. The current law does mention junk vehicles, however.

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

Junk cars are illegal in Spokane Valley’s residential areas unless they’re hidden behind a fence or hedge, in which case a property owner is allowed two. Property owners can have an infinite number of junk vehicles provided they have infinite garage space.

The City Council could soon make the law even stricter and limit property owners to one junker or one unlicensed vehicle, even if that vehicle is concealed behind a fence. That amendment would allow Spokane Valley to target property owners who have numerous unlicensed cars on their property that don’t legally count as junkers.

The council could also make it illegal for people to keep broken golf carts or vessels out in the open. The city already prohibits people from keeping broken Jet Skis, snowmobiles, aircraft “and the like” in their yards.

A majority of City Council members have said they support the proposed changes, but Councilman Ben Wick and Councilwoman Laura Padden have expressed concerns.

Both say they’re worried a harsher law on junkers and unlicensed cars could be an unreasonable restriction on private property rights. Padden said she believes the City Council should leave private property owners alone unless public health is at risk.

Mayor Pam Haley said she thinks a stricter law is needed. Staff won’t be able to enforce compliance without tighter regulations, she said, noting that some property owners have kept junkers on their lots for years without facing repercussions.

“The citizens are asking us to do something,” Haley said. “We need to make a decision to protect our citizens’ property values.”

Councilman Arne Woodard, a longtime proponent of stricter nuisance laws, said the City Council needs to stop dawdling and take action on the issue. The council considered adopting a handful of nuisance law amendments last summer, but backed off after residents said the changes would be an un-American infringement on private property rights.

“I don’t know how many more times we need to talk about this,” Woodard said. “I don’t know when we’re going to be adult enough, or courageous enough, to start giving our code enforcement (staff) and our police an opportunity to help us with this.”