TITLE 21

Motor Vehicles

Operation and Equipment

CHAPTER 44. ABANDONED VEHICLES


(a) The purpose of this chapter is to eliminate abandoned vehicles which tend to impede traffic in the streets or interfere with the enjoyment of, and reduce the value of, private property, to invite plundering, to create fire hazards and other safety and health hazards to children as well as to adults, to interfere with the comfort and well-being of the public and to create, extend and aggravate urban blight.

(b) Any vehicle that is either: (1) inoperable, dismantled, wrecked, or which displays expired registration plates which are at least 30 days expired, or which displays no registration plates, or from which major components have been removed, is in such a state of disrepair as to be incapable of being operated in the manner for which it is designed and is situated on private property appearing to have been abandoned; or (2) which is inoperable, dismantled, wrecked, or which displays expired registration plates which are at least 30 days expired, or which displays no registration plates, or from which the major components have been removed and which shall have been placed upon any State or public highway or property or the property or roads of any political subdivision or the State or public highways within a municipality or upon any express highway in the State for a period in excess of 12 hours without being removed, shall be considered to be abandoned for the purpose of this chapter, except:

(1) That vehicles and equipment used or to be used in the construction, operation or maintenance of public utility facilities and which are left in a manner which does not interfere with the normal movement of traffic shall not be considered abandoned vehicles for the purposes of this chapter;

(2) Those vehicles whose owners have properly parked and locked them and have notified the State Police, county police or municipal police, as the case may be, as designated in § 4402 of this title, that the owner desires to leave the vehicle so parked and secured for a period not to exceed 30 days, except that if during such period the vehicle is no longer secured, or, in the opinion of the State Police, county police or municipal police, has become a danger to the public, then the vehicle shall be subject to the provisions of this chapter.

(c) As used in this chapter, the term "express highway" or "state highway" or "public highway" shall include any portion of the highway located within the right-of-way lines or, in the case of limited access highway, the denial of access lines, including shoulders and median strip.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4401; 55 Del. Laws, c. 173; 57 Del. Laws, c. 204; 57 Del. Laws, c. 713, § 1; 65 Del. Laws, c. 46, § 1; 74 Del. Laws, c. 60, §§ 1, 2, 3.;

(a) This chapter shall be enforced with respect to state or public highways or property within a municipality which maintains a police force by that police force. In all other instances, the State Police or the Department of Safety and Homeland Security (hereinafter "Department") shall enforce this chapter, except that, in New Castle County, the New Castle County Police shall have concurrent authority to enforce this chapter. New Castle County Code Enforcement Constables shall have concurrent authority to enforce the notice provisions of subsections (d) and (e) of this section. The Department of Transportation shall have a limited role in causing vehicles to be removed from state or public highways, as stated herein.

(b) Upon the discovery of a vehicle on any state or public highway or property or the property or roads of any political subdivision or state or public highways within a municipality or upon any express highway in the State concerning which vehicle there are reasonable grounds to believe to be an abandoned vehicle, the State Police, county police or municipal police, as the case may be, shall post a notice at some conspicuous place on the vehicle, which shall direct that such vehicle be removed by a stated time and date (such time and date to be not less than 12 hours following the posting of such notice). If the vehicle is not removed within the time period designated by such notice, the abandoned vehicle shall be removed to a storage area designated by the Department or the State Police or its successor.

(c) In the event that a vehicle is abandoned on private property without the consent of the owner or occupant thereof, at the complaint of the property owner or occupant, such vehicle may be caused to be removed by the State Police, county police or municipal police, as the case may be, in the manner provided in this chapter, except that the posting required in subsection (b) of this section may be omitted. Any towing company or vendor requested to remove an abandoned vehicle under these circumstances shall be provided by the involved police agency the best available information regarding ownership of the vehicle and last known address of the owner.

(d) If an abandoned vehicle is on private property with the consent of the owner or occupant thereof, of if an abandoned vehicle is owned by the owner or occupant of the private property where the vehicle is located, representatives of the Department or State Police may enter upon the property where such vehicle is located to ascertain its ownership. The Department shall notify the owner of the abandoned vehicle by certified mail sent to the owner's last known address to remove such vehicle within 7 days from the date of the mailing. If the vehicle is not removed within 7 days or if the owner cannot be located for the purpose of sending the written notice, then representatives of the Department or State Police may enter upon the property where the vehicle is located and conspicuously affix thereto a sticker or tag showing the time and date of its affixing, advising the owner that if the vehicle is not removed within 24 hours from the time of the affixing of the sticker, the vehicle shall be removed to a storage area designated by the Department or the State Police. This subsection shall not apply to automobile graveyards as defined in § 1202(b)(2) of Title 17 nor to any vehicle on private property which is not visible from the street or road and is not otherwise a nuisance or a health or fire hazard.

(e) The notice required by subsections (b) and (d) of this section shall state that, if such vehicle is not so removed, it will be removed and stored at a storage area designated by the Department or the State Police at the owner's expense, and thereafter will be subject to disposal in accordance with law. Such notice shall also set forth verbatim § 4414 of this title. If the vehicle shall not have been removed by the time and date specified in the notice, the police officer or agents or employees of the Department or State Police shall take such vehicle into custody and shall cause it to be removed and stored for safekeeping in the storage area designated by the Department or the State Police. The officer shall promptly notify the Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security, upon a form to be supplied by the Secretary for that purpose, of the action which has been taken with respect to such vehicle.

(f) This chapter shall not apply to any removal of a vehicle unless the removal is directed by the appropriate police authority or the Department or State Police or its successor.

(g) Any person who possesses or on whose property any abandoned vehicle or motor vehicle is found or who owns a vehicle or motor vehicle for which the certificate of title is lost or destroyed and such vehicle or motor vehicle is more than 8 years old and has no engine or is otherwise totally inoperable, may transfer the vehicle or motor vehicle to a licensed automotive recycler without the certificate of title on forms furnished by the Department. In such cases, the licensed automotive recycler may take the vehicle or motor vehicle in that person's possession and shall immediately obtain from the Division of Motor Vehicles the name and address of the last known owner of the vehicle or motor vehicle or secured party. The licensed automotive recycler shall give at least 10 days' notice to the owner or secured party by certified mail, return receipt requested. If the vehicle is not reclaimed within the 10-day period specified in the notice, the licensed automotive recycler assumes unencumbered title to the vehicle.

If the name and address of the owner or secured party cannot be obtained from the records of the Division of Motor Vehicles or by exercising reasonable diligence, the licensed automotive recycler assumes unencumbered title after the vehicle or motor vehicle has been in the recycler's possession for 30 days.

Notice of assumption of ownership shall be made to the Division of Motor Vehicles on forms devised by the Division.

(h) In the event that a vehicle is abandoned or parked within a private right-of-way, alleyway or easement in such a manner as to impede the flow of traffic, at the complaint of any property owner or occupant or other person with a right-of-passage across the private right-of-way, alleyway or easement, such vehicle may be caused to be removed by the State Police, county police or municipal police, as the case may be, in the manner provided in this chapter, except that the posting required in subsection (b) of this section may be omitted and that the provisions of this chapter shall be applied to said parked vehicle as if it were an abandoned vehicle.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4402; 55 Del. Laws, c. 173; 56 Del. Laws, c. 153; 57 Del. Laws, c. 670, § 16A; 57 Del. Laws, c. 713, §§ 2-5; 58 Del. Laws, c. 119, §§ 1-4; 63 Del. Laws, c. 265, § 1; 63 Del. Laws, c. 421, § 1; 65 Del. Laws, c. 318, § 5; 66 Del. Laws, c. 236, §§ 1-3; 67 Del. Laws, c. 249, § 1; 70 Del. Laws, c. 186, § 1; 74 Del. Laws, c. 60, §§ 4, 5; 74 Del. Laws, c. 110, §§ 91, 92; 75 Del. Laws, c. 333, § 1; 78 Del. Laws, c. 124, § 1.;

The police or the Department of Safety and Homeland Security causing the removal of an abandoned vehicle shall immediately ascertain the identity of any person or persons holding a lien against said vehicle. Within 5 days of the removal of the vehicle, the State Police, other police agencies, New Castle County Code Enforcement Constables or the Department shall cause a written notice to be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle removed and lien holders stating:

(1) That the vehicle has been removed pursuant to law;

(2) The place to which it has been removed; and

(3) That the vehicle may be sold to satisfy the costs of removal and storage of the vehicle as provided in § 4404 of this title unless those costs have been paid in full on or before 30 days from the date of the removal of the vehicle.

If the address of the owner of the vehicle cannot be ascertained by the exercise of reasonable diligence, then the notice provided by this section shall not be required to be given.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4403; 55 Del. Laws, c. 173; 58 Del. Laws, c. 119, § 5; 66 Del. Laws, c. 236, § 4; 74 Del. Laws, c. 110, § 93; 75 Del. Laws, c. 333, § 2.;

The Department of Safety and Homeland Security shall have a possessory lien against said abandoned vehicles and shall have a right to sell said abandoned vehicles after complying with the notice and sale provisions as outlined in Chapter 39 of Title 25, with the exception that the proceeds of the sale shall be applied first to the costs of the sale, then to the costs of removing, towing, preserving and storing and then to the payment of any liens to which said motor vehicle, trailer or part thereof may be subject in order of their priority, then to the State Treasurer who shall create a special fund thereof and who shall pay to the owner the moneys held if a claim is made within 1 year of the removal or deposit the moneys in the General Fund if no claim is made within 1 year of the removal.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4404; 55 Del. Laws, c. 173; 57 Del. Laws, c. 670, § 16B; 57 Del. Laws, c. 713, § 6; 61 Del. Laws, c. 367, § 2; 74 Del. Laws, c. 110, § 94.;

Upon the sale of a vehicle pursuant to this chapter, all claims or interest therein shall be forever barred.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4405; 55 Del. Laws, c. 173.;

The Secretary of Transportation shall issue a certificate of title to the purchaser of a vehicle sold pursuant to this chapter.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4406; 55 Del. Laws, c. 173; 57 Del. Laws, c. 670, § 16B; 74 Del. Laws, c. 110, § 95.;

The Secretary of Public Safety may make and promulgate rules and regulations to implement this chapter.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4407; 55 Del. Laws, c. 173; 57 Del. Laws, c. 670, § 16A.;

No law-enforcement officer or agent or employee of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, State Police or other legally authorized police agency or New Castle County Code Enforcement Constable acting under this chapter and no one who tows or stores a vehicle as a result of being directed to do so shall be liable to criminal prosecution arising from such action or be liable to any person for the injury, loss or destruction of any real or personal property which occurs in the course of the removal or storage of any vehicle taken into custody under this chapter.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4408; 55 Del. Laws, c. 173; 58 Del. Laws, c. 119, § 6; 66 Del. Laws, c. 236, § 5; 70 Del. Laws, c. 186, § 1; 74 Del. Laws, c. 110, § 96; 75 Del. Laws, c. 333, § 3.;

The rights and authority conferred by this chapter shall be in addition to, and not in lieu of, any other rights or authority possessed by any public officer or property owner with respect to abandoned vehicles.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4409; 55 Del. Laws, c. 173.;

(a) A wrecker, licensed by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security (hereinafter "Department") or its successor upon the procurement from the Department of the license with the appropriate decal affixed thereto, shall be the responsible party for implementing the removal provisions of this chapter. The owner of the wrecker shall be responsible for removing only those vehicles as are specifically designated by complete description and serial number. The owner shall keep adequate records and furnish the Department with a monthly report.

(b) The Department of Safety and Homeland Security and wrecker owner shall enter into a contract providing for the removal of vehicles, but the Department of Safety and Homeland Security shall make the determination of the number of cars to be removed by the wrecker within an 8-hour work day with no removal permitted on Sunday.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4410; 57 Del. Laws, c. 713, § 8; 66 Del. Laws, c. 236, § 6; 74 Del. Laws, c. 110, §§ 97, 98.;

The Department of Safety and Homeland Security or State Police shall designate the area or areas in each county which shall be used for the storage of abandoned vehicles.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4411; 57 Del. Laws, c. 713, § 9; 58 Del. Laws, c. 119, § 7; 66 Del. Laws, c. 236, § 7; 74 Del. Laws, c. 110, § 99.;

Any vehicle left in the possession of a garage or service station which is in operation as a going business shall not be considered for purposes of this chapter an abandoned vehicle, even though the vehicle left in possession of the garage or service station is inoperable or partially or fully dismantled. No garage or service station owner shall maintain more than 5 such vehicles within a 6-month period, unless the owner complies with § 1206 of Title 17, relating to screening of junkyards.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4412; 57 Del. Laws, c. 713, § 10; 70 Del. Laws, c. 186, § 1.;

Anyone maintaining an inventory of antique cars or parts thereof shall not be subject to this chapter, provided the antique cars or parts thereof are housed in a building consisting of 4 sides and a roof and are not visible from the highway or road from any location.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4413; 57 Del. Laws, c. 713, § 11.;

(a) Any person who wilfully abandons a vehicle within the right-of-way of any highway of this State or upon the property of another without consent, and any person who, being the owner of an abandoned vehicle, wilfully fails to remove it pursuant to a directive given under § 4402(b) of this title shall be fined not less than $28.75 nor more than $115.

(b) For the purposes of this section, the fact that a person voluntarily left a vehicle and did not return to remove it within 7 consecutive days shall be prima facie evidence of the wilful abandonment of such vehicle.

(c) Justices of the peace shall have jurisdiction for purposes of this section.

21 Del. C. 1953, § 4414; 55 Del. Laws, c. 173; 57 Del. Laws, c. 713, § 7; 58 Del. Laws, c. 119, § 8; 66 Del. Laws, c. 14, § 3; 68 Del. Laws, c. 9, § 51; 70 Del. Laws, c. 186, § 1.;

(a) This section applies to motor vehicles whose model year age is 8 years of age or older on the date of towing.

(b) Any wrecker owner is vested with a lien as defined in § 3901 of Title 25 upon taking possession of any motor vehicle described in subsection (a) of this section.

(c) The wrecker owner in possession of a motor vehicle and requesting a Delaware certificate of title shall contact the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles to determine the owner(s) of any vehicle with undetermined ownership within 5 calendar days of towing the vehicle.

(d) The owner and all secured parties shall be notified by the wrecker owner within 10 days of the wrecker owner's receipt of information from the Division of Motor Vehicles. This notification must be by registered mail or certified mail.

(e) The owner and all secured parties shall either satisfy the lien or respond to the notification within 5 calendar days from receipt of said notification. This response shall include either a signed release of interest in the vehicle pursuant to § 3904 of Title 25 or a signed letter contesting the disposal.

(1) If the owner and/or any secured party contests the lien or the disposal, the person may contest the lien or the disposal to the closest Justice of the Peace Court to the address of the wrecker owner.

(2) If the owner and/or secured party does not reply within 5 days from the receipt of said notification, the wrecker owner may proceed to sell according to § 3903 of Title 25.

(f) The wrecker owner shall have the vehicle inspected by the Delaware State Police Auto Theft Unit between the date the vehicle is towed and the thirtieth day following that date.

(g) If the unit is released by the registered owner and all secured parties, the wrecker owner may proceed to transfer the vehicle without having to comply with Chapter 39 of Title 25. This transfer shall be made to a salvage yard without a certificate of title, but shall be made on forms furnished by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

(h) If the model year of the unit cannot be determined, then it will not be subject to this section.

(i) If the name and address of the owner or secured party is not recorded with the Division of Motor Vehicles, the wrecker owner assumes unencumbered title after the vehicle has been in the wrecker owner's possession for 30 days. Any transfer shall be made to a salvage yard without a certificate of title but shall be made on forms furnished by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

(j) Any wrecker owner may transfer a vehicle described in subsection (a) of this section directly to a licensed automotive recycler when said vehicle has been in the wrecker owner's possession for 30 days, without owner notification, only after the vehicle has been inspected by the State Police Auto Theft Unit and upon receipt of a Certificate Of Authority To Dispose Of A Towed Vehicle Form issued by the Department. A wrecker owner shall be issued a Certificate Of Authority To Dispose Of A Towed Vehicle Form when the wrecker owner submits to the Department the approved application form:

(1) Along with the State Police Vehicle Inspection Report and a copy of the corresponding Police Tow Form; or

(2) When the vehicle has been towed from private property, along with other documentary evidence of the right to the possession, containing description of vehicle, date towed, location towed from and person authorizing the towing.

(k) Any wrecker owner who violates this section shall, for the first offense, be fined not less than $25 nor more than $50 for each vehicle violation. For each subsequent life offense within 1 year the wrecker owner shall be fined not less than $50 nor more than $100 for each vehicle violation.

(l) The last known registered owner of an abandoned vehicle is considered to be the prima facie owner of the vehicle at the time it was abandoned and to be the person who abandoned it.

65 Del. Laws, c. 363, § 1; 66 Del. Laws, c. 14, §§ 1, 2; 70 Del. Laws, c. 186, § 1; 74 Del. Laws, c. 110, § 138.;

Any other provision of this chapter notwithstanding, in the event a motor vehicle is left unattended within the right-of-way of a "public highway" or state highway, or any state-maintained street, road or bridge and is determined to be a safety hazard within the discretion of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, the State Police or any authorized police agency, said vehicle shall be towed to a storage area designated by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security and the provisions of this chapter shall apply.

66 Del. Laws, c. 236, § 8; 74 Del. Laws, c. 110, § 100.;