QCOSTARICA – What happens when a vehicle is seized by the Policia de Transito (Traffic Police)? In many cases it goes into abandonment if the owner never claims it, costing the government coffers some ¢1.09 billion colones (about US$1.8 million dollars) a year to look after them.
Sounds absurd yet a reality that officials of the Ministry of Transport (MOPT) and Road Safety Council (COSEVI) have been battling with for year for lack of a consensus of legislators to reform the law.
The problem has grown to the extent that there are some 40,000 vehicles – cars and motorcycles – in MOPT and COSEVI storage yards (patios in Spanish), unclaimed, rotting away, yet must continue to be under the care of State.
On Tuesday, October 27, a bill to allow the State to discard or use unclaimed vehicles after a period of three months from the final judgment of res judicata or the administrative route exhausted, received second and final approval by the unanimous vote of 47 legislators present in session.
The bill also allows the Ministry of Public Security to dispose of unclaimed vehicles, which are estimated to be some 5,000 vehicles and 3,700 motorcycles, seized from their owners for various offences, including drug trafficking, stolen vehicles, among others, all part of the daily police work.
The congressman pointed out that this storage of units becomes unmanageable, unhealthy and unsafe. “Many times people do not even start the process to recover the vehicles,” he said.
The accumulating problem
Although legislation already provided for the possibility of disposing of the vehicles unclaimed by their owners, little by little the administrative obstacles to dispose of hem grew.
For years, procedures allow the authorities only to file them away, so to speak, the piles of junk piling up, costing taxpayers money and affecting policing.
As legislator Enrique Sánchez, of the Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), one of the proponents of the bill explains, the option for authorities was only to park them, so that they finish turning into garbage, without being able to do anything, except pay for the maintenance of the sites where they accumulate.
The legislator explained, in his proposal arguments, that many times traffic officers avoided, in some way, imposing fines that imply the seizure of the vehicle, because their accumulation threatens the effectiveness of the sanctioning regulations for infractions.
One of the reasons why Transito will most likely seize the license plate of a vehicle and not the vehicle itself, particularly for moving violations or violations of the vehicle restrictions.
“The available legal framework, far from being an expeditious tool, was formed rather like a swarm of obstacles, leading to the point that vehicles have been accumulating,” says the explanatory memorandum of the approved plan.
What will now become of the unclaimed vehicles?
The approved law establishes that the Cosevi will have one year to periodically publish the lists of the unclaimed cars that they have in their depots, to proceed with their disposal.
In the case of vehicles with liens, Cosevi is to periodically publish in La Gaceta (the official government newsletter) the lists in the event a lienholder appears to claim them.
If a month passes and no one claims the property, the Cosevi will ask the National Registry to lift the annotation.
In the case of vehicles with a value less than ¢1.3 million colones they will be destroyed; those between ¢1.3 million and ¢2.7 million, they can be donated and those with values greater than ¢ 2.7 million will be auctioned.
How did so many vehicles become unclaimed?
For starters, the problem goes back many years, a thing of the past and present stemming from a nunber of situaitons, for example:
- One of those is that the fines accumulated or liens were greater than the value of the vehicle.
- Only the registered owner (the name of the person or corporation appearing on title) could claim the vehicle, an impossibility, if the physical owner is not the registered owner, for example title was never passed from the seller to the buyer to avoid paying the transfer tax.
- The registered owner has moved from the country, cannot be contacted or unaware of that the vehicle is in impound.
- The vehicle was stolen and the registered owner cannot be contacted.