Peek’s Perspective by Dewain E. Peek

On Monday, Dec. 3, Livingston Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the first reading of “An ordinance to amend Title 13 and Title 15 of the Livingston Municipal Code related to property maintenance regulations”.

That sounds harmless enough, but the ordinance is also known as the “abandoned vehicle” ordinance, which is also a bit misleading, because if it was about truly abandoned vehicles there would be no one to complain about having them removed.

And some argue that if it was really about property maintenance the city should have begun with “zombie houses” where everything is overgrown because no one lives there. Again, with no one living there, who could complain about trying to make the owners clean it up?

But instead, in an effort to “clean up this town”, automobiles are the focus, but they are not the only thing covered by the ordinance.

Section 13-201 (3) states: “Motor vehicle” is any vehicle which is self-propelled and designed to travel along the ground and shall include, but not be limited to automobiles, buses, motor-bikes, motorcycles, motor scooters, trucks, tractors, riding lawn mowers, go-carts, golf carts, campers and trailers.

Now when you add this definition to Section 13-202 – Storing, parking or leaving dismantled or other such motor vehicle prohibited and declared nuisance: exceptions – you have a whole other way for to pick on property owners.

The section reads: “No person shall park, store, leave, or permit the parking, storing, or leaving of any motor vehicle of any kind which is abandoned, wrecked, dismantled, inoperative, rusted, junked or partially dismantled condition whether attended or not, upon any public or private property within the town for a period of time in excess of seventy-two (72) hours. The presence of an abandoned, wrecked, dismantled, inoperative, rusted, junked or partially dismantled vehicle or parts thereof, on private or public property is hereby declared a public nuisance which may be abated as such in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. This section shall not apply to any vehicle enclosed within a building on private property or to any vehicle held in connection with a business enterprise, lawfully licensed by the town and properly operated in the appropriate business zone, pursuant to the zoning laws of the town, or to any motor vehicles in operable condition specifically adopted or designed for operation on drag strips or raceways, or any vehicle retained by the owner for antique collection purposes operable and licensed.”

I added the bold typeface to a few items there to point out that rust is an apparent nuisance, so you extended cab truck owners are now put on notice.

And that extra set of wheels for your Jeep that are stacked up behind your house could also be considered “or parts thereof”.

Oh, but they are behind you house. Well, there is no provision for “out of sight” as many municipalities make allowance for. The only “out of sight” exemption is “enclosed within a building”. So, that ‘72 Harley-Davidson that has been sitting on the carport under a tarpaulin for the past three years would be in violation under this ordinance.

A fair ordinance would make allowance for keeping these so-called nuisances out of sight. Allowances should be made for keeping vehicles on carports, behind fences, or under tarps, if the purpose is to eliminate “nuisance” vehicles.

I also question requiring current license plates on vehicles that are not going to be driven any time soon.

Section 13-201(4) states: “Junked motor vehicle” is any motor vehicle, as defined by 13-401(3), which does not have lawfully affixed thereto an unexpired license plate or the condition of which is wrecked, dismantled, partially dismantled, inoperative, abandoned or discarded, or constitutes a public nuisance and/or affecting the health and safety of the community as a whole.

And Section 13-201(8) states: Failure to have lawfully affixed thereto an unexpired license plate as required in the State of Tennessee shall constitute a rebuttable presumption of a junked motor vehicle.

To me, this ‘“tax” allows for those with means to purchase a license plate and leave the car in the yard while those who cannot afford to do that have their cars taken from them. Instead of requiring current registration, some municipalities just require the owner to show that the vehicle is operable by starting it and moving it around.

Of course, if the car or truck is over 25 years-old, the owner can purchase an “Antique Automobile” plate and, under this ordinance, never have to move the car. The Antique plate has a one-time fee and, with no annual renewal requirement, is good for as long as the registrant owns the vehicle.

But on the subject of “haves and have-nots”, having the City Judge as the arbiter of a resident’s disagreement with receiving notice of a violation under this ordinance makes sense on a cost basis for the city, but does little for the aggrieved. The next recourse would likely be to Chancery Court, which tends to rule in favor of municipalities. So, only those with the means to appeal to a higher authority would have much of a chance of winning in court.

And the cost of the violations are another potentially odious burden.

Section 13-211 – Penalty and Remedy reads in part: “Each act in violation of the provisions hereof and/or each day that an act is allowed to continue in violation of the provisions hereof is deemed a separate offense and an additional violation.”

So, the cost could be untenable for many residents.

Some of those pushing for the ordinance indicated that each violator’s case would be considered compassionately, and I hope that will be the case.

And I understand not letting perfect be the enemy of good, but why not fix obvioous problems at the start? At least make a provision for carports and for “out of sight”. If a car or truck or tractor or motorcycle or lawn mower or golf cart appears to be where it belongs or can’t be seen from the road, then how is it a nuisance?

Those wishing to comment to the City Council will have the opportunity at a public hearing set for 5:45 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7, which will be immediately before the monthly meeting in which the second, and final, reading of the ordinance is to be considered in that night’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting.