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Homeless SF residents sue to stop city from impounding their cars

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Unpaid parking tickets deprive homeless residents of only shelter

Parking tickets piled up on a windshield. Photo by sirtravelalot

A San Francisco man has sued SFMTA in an attempt to keep the city from impounding the cars of homeless people for whom their vehicle is also their only shelter. It turns out he’s not alone.

KQED reports on the story of Sean Kayode, who had been living in his 2005 Mercedes Benz until the city seized it in March. The reason: unpaid parking tickets.

Kayode, who now resides at a homeless shelter, says in his suit that the car was not only his home but also his means of income as a delivery driver. Civil rights attorney Jude Pond alleges that the California law that permits cities to impound cars with five or more parking tickets is unconstitutional.

It turns out that the lawsuit in question, Smith v Reiskin (SFMTA director Ed Reiskin is named as the principle defendant), actually predates Kayode’s woes.

James Smith, described by his attorney as a “64-year-old lifelong San Francisco resident whose only source of income is $1,140 in Social Security each month,” lost his car months earlier and was the first to seek succor from the courts.

According to Smith’s complaint:

Mr. Smith is homeless and his car was his only shelter when defendants seized it without a warrant and without prior notice that it would be towed. The reason for the tow [...] was solely to coerce payment for parking tickets Mr. Smith could not afford to pay. Defendants failed to provide Mr. Smith with due process before the tow—no notice or opportunity to be heard.

[...] Accordingly, the two violated Mr. Smith’s constitutional right to be free from warrantless seizure of his property. Mr. Smith is suffering irreparable harm due to the loss of his car, which was his only shelter.

Smith’s attorney acknowledges that his 2007 Honda Accord, impounded on December 28, 2017, had over 20 unpaid citations.

But Smith says these were the result of health problems that made it difficult for him to leave the apartment he lived in at the time and move his car during street sweeping. He can hardly afford to pay the fines now that he’s homeless, or to pay the $7,000 impound fee needed to get it back.

Note that San Francisco has long had laws against “camping” in vehicles. Among other things, city ordinances prohibit using:

Any house car, camper or trailer coach [hereafter, jointly, motor homes] for human habitation, including but not limited to sleeping, eating or resting, either single [sic] or in groups, on any street, park, beach, square, avenue, alley or public way, within the City and County of San Francisco between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.