Shifting Gears: Moving Colorado Away from Criminalizing Vehicle Residency and Towards Safe Parking

52 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2021 Last revised: 4 Oct 2021

See all articles by Nantiya Ruan

Nantiya Ruan

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Elie Zwiebel

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Date Written: September 3, 2021

Abstract

Colorado is in the midst of a housing crisis, which has resulted in thousands of people experiencing homelessness. In 2020, the Point in Time survey recorded 9,846 individuals experiencing homelessness in Colorado. Of these individuals, 2,913 – nearly 30% – were unsheltered. Further, given the impending end of COVID-19 protections, such as the federal and state residential eviction moratoria and extended unemployment benefits, the number of those experiencing homelessness in Colorado is likely to rise in 2021 and 2022. Evictions from December 2020 to January 2021 were already on the rise, from 925 filings to 2,011 filings —a 218% increase.

In response to the crisis, vehicles have become an affordable housing option for many. However, cities in Colorado have historically struggled to create sustainable solutions to aid those who are experiencing homelessness and living in their vehicles. Whether through misguided efforts to help, or pressure from housed communities and community members, cities too often have adopted new laws and regulations within their municipal codes that criminalize, rather than assist, these populations. This report focuses specifically on municipal ordinances that criminalize vehicle residency.

This report undertakes a comprehensive review of the municipal codes in twenty cities selected based on their population and location: Arvada, Aurora, Boulder, Breckenridge, Broomfield, Colorado Springs, Craig, Denver, Durango, Fort Collins, Glenwood Springs, Golden, Grand Junction, Greeley, Lakewood, La Junta, Littleton, Longmont, Pueblo, and Thornton. These cities’ municipal codes were surveyed for key words relevant to vehicle residency and identified ordinances that were separated into five categories: (1) ordinances that prohibit the parking of large vehicles; (2) ordinances the prohibit inoperable, junk, or abandoned vehicles; (3) ordinances that prohibit parking for longer than 72 hours; (4) ordinances that outright prohibit sleeping or living in cars; and (5) regulations found in local zoning codes.

Laws that prohibit parking large vehicles on public streets prevent individuals from living in an RV when they lose other forms of housing, which criminalizes vehicle residency. Laws that prohibit and impound junk, inoperable, and abandoned vehicles disallow individuals to create a home from a car that may not currently be operable, which criminalizes vehicle residency. Laws that prohibit parking on public streets for more than 24 to 72 hours force individuals to move locations frequently, which criminalizes vehicle residency. Laws that prohibit sleeping or living in vehicles prevent individuals from legally sleeping or living in their car, which directly criminalizes vehicle residency. Further, zoning codes frequently contain provisions that prohibit land uses not specifically permitted in a particular zone district, which, as may be interpreted, criminalize vehicle residency.

This report analyzes identified ordinances from across the state, suggests how to change the laws to make them more amenable to vehicle residents, discusses the constitutionality of these laws, and concludes with a state-wide solution to vehicle residency through safe parking and the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative. Both municipalities within Colorado, and the state itself, must take action to ensure that the growing population of vehicle residents can find refuge and a safe place to rest.

Suggested Citation

Ruan, Nantiya and Zwiebel, Elie, Shifting Gears: Moving Colorado Away from Criminalizing Vehicle Residency and Towards Safe Parking (September 3, 2021). U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3917003 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3917003

Nantiya Ruan (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States

Elie Zwiebel

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Ave.
Ste 335
Denver, CO 80208
United States

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