Many people think it’s illegal, a local police officer said, but there is no state or local law that prevents people from living in their cars.
An anonymous caller reported to The Dalles Police Department Monday evening that multiple people were parked on Pentland between Second and Third streets and living out of their cars.
He was advised that it wasn’t against the law to live in a vehicle. The man said he was concerned that people could hang out and party in the streets all day, according to the log.
An officer arrived at the location and found none of the vehicles were occupied.
The Dalles Police Officer Chris Simonds said many people wrongly think it’s illegal to live in a car.
He said it is not that big of an issue in The Dalles, and he estimated only a handful of people, maybe five, are living in their cars at any one point in The Dalles.
One man in particular is adept at moving his car frequently so he does not run afoul of various parking lot rules that say a vehicle can stay no more than 48 hours, for example.
What is barred by city code is having an RV parked on the street. Also, you cannot have a vehicle parked on the street for more than five days, Simonds said.
“There’s no ordinance, which would be city, and no statute, which would be state, which prohibits sleeping in a vehicle,” Simonds said.
“Some municipalities consider a vehicle that is being slept in as fitting the criteria of an RV and at this point the city attorney has not deemed that something that we’re going to do,” Simonds said.
Simonds said many people who are living in vehicles can end up losing it for various reasons. “They usually live a lifestyle where they can’t hang on to that car for any given length of time,” he said. For example, they may get arrested, in which case and the vehicle is towed.
“I get a lot of these calls of ‘Why aren’t you guys doing anything?’ If the vehicle is not fitting the abandoned vehicle criteria, then it’s considered a stored vehicle,” Simonds said. “Stored vehicles parked on city streets get parking tickets.”
If a person keeps paying those $20 parking tickets, “we won’t tow them,” Simonds said.
But if a person accumulates five unpaid tickets, then the car can be towed the next time it’s seen in violation, Simonds said.
A vehicle is considered abandoned if it has expired tags, has garbage in it, or is clearly undriveable, such as its missing tires or has no engine.
Abandoned vehicles can be towed in a week.
Up until five years ago, all vehicles were classed as abandoned, and it was a 24-hour window before towing could commence. “It was a little bit stringent, that’s why they bumped it to five days.”
Having a stored vehicle is a violation, not a crime, and a police officer has to witness the violation in order to write a ticket. So if someone calls and says a vehicle has been parked for three months, that is not grounds for issuing a ticket right away, Simonds said.
Rather, the officer has to observe that it hasn’t moved, and then they can come back in five days and if it still hasn’t moved, then they can issue a ticket.
As for living in a car on private property, The Dalles City Attorney Gene Parker said, “The city’s land use ordinance allows persons to reside in types of dwelling units on private property and does not specifically mention persons living in tents or vehicles on private property. Since living in tents or vehicles on private property is not specifically listed as an allowed use, this use would not be considered to be permitted.”