A Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the city violated the constitutional rights of a homeless man by towing his vehicle residence and charging him high rates to retrieve the vehicle and his personal belongings.
Perhaps as crucially, the court also found that because the plaintiff, Steven Long, had used his vehicle as a residence, the city also violated a Washington state law that protects conventional homeowners when it required Long to sign a payment plan to release his property, using his home as collateral on a debt.
Long began living in his truck in 2014 when he was evicted for being behind on rent.
It broke down in 2016, and he parked it in a gravel lot at Rainier Avenue South and South Dearborn Street. When he came back from work one night, he found that the city had towed the car, taking away essentials like his tools, winter clothing and food.
Forcing him to pay high fees to get his property released violated the Constitution, according to Judge Catherine Shaffer’s ruling. Shaffer voided the payment plan for the tow and impound fees and ordered the Municipal Court to refund any payments Long had already made.
The ruling could have far-reaching implications. The city tows so many recreational vehicles, often used as residences, that it has a special addendum on its contract with Lincoln Towing, limiting the cost of a tow and destruction of an RV to $2,000.
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Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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