Mountain Law: Dealing with vehicles parked without permission on private land |

Mountain Law: Dealing with vehicles parked without permission on private land


Dealing with vehicles parked without permission on private land is a struggle for many landowners. This article provides and overview of the Colorado law on the subject.

Private landowners are not required to permit public use of their land for parking unless they have agreed to dedicate the land for such use. Even if a private owner has dedicated his land for public use, the owner may ask local government to designate areas within the land where only authorized vehicles may park.

To the extent that private landowners choose to allow public parking on their land, Colorado law recognizes their right to revoke or restrict such use. This may be accomplished by the landowner posting signage stating the conditions of use. These conditions might include a certain time of day that parking is allowed; a length of time that parking is allowed; payment of a fee; or a specified purpose for which parking is allowed (such as patronizing a particular business or group of businesses). As a practical matter, the conditions of use can be difficult to enforce without the parking area being monitored.

Under the Colorado abandoned-vehicle statute, a private landowner may have an unauthorized vehicle towed from his land if that vehicle has been left unattended for a period of at least 24 hours without consent of the owner, tenant, or authorized representative. A landowner would likely have the right to tow a vehicle without first waiting the 24-hour period if the landowner has posted warnings or otherwise informed the vehicle owner of this right … or if a shorter time period is permitted by local ordinance. The statute refers to the right of an owner to tow a “motor vehicle,” which leaves open to interpretation whether an owner has the right to tow an abandoned trailer (which has no motor).

Towing operators in Colorado

are licensed by the state. Once they tow an abandoned vehicle, they are required to report to local law enforcement within 30 minutes to determine if the vehicle is stolen. If the vehicle is reported stolen, the towing operator must turn it over to local law enforcement for return to its owner. If the vehicle is not reported stolen, the towing operator has a period of time to submit a records request to the state to determine the owner of the vehicle and any persons claiming a lien against the vehicle (such as for a car loan). The towing operator must then send the owner and any lien claimants shown in the report a notice with information about how to claim the vehicle.

In most cases, a towing operator has a priority lien under Colorado law encumbering a towed vehicle and its contents for the costs and fees of towing and storing the vehicle. The towing operator is not required to release the vehicle to its owner until the lien is paid. If the vehicle is not claimed within 30 days after the requisite notice is sent, the towing operator can dispose of the vehicle by a public sale advertised in the paper or a private sale to a motor vehicle dealer. The proceeds of the sale apply first to pay the towing operator’s lien and then are given to the State for distribution to other lien claimants and the former vehicle owner (if there are sufficient funds).

It often happens that there are disputes between neighboring property owners concerning their respective parking rights. For example, the owners of a duplex may dispute their right to park on a shared driveway. In these situations, the owners should resolve the dispute between themselves before causing any vehicles to be towed in order to avoid liability for improper towing.

Noah Klug is principal of The Klug Law Firm, LLC, a general law practice in Summit County emphasizing real estate, commercial law and litigation. He may be reached at (970)468-4953 or

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