On Thursday, the Los Angeles City Council voted in favor of banning people from living in their vehicles between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. in residential districts, or at any time within one block of a school or park. Ten city councilmembers voted in favor of the ban, four were absent and one, Councilmember Nury Martinez, voted against the ban.
Each night, at least 9,500 people fall asleep inside cars, vans and RVs parked in various neighborhoods around the city. Though the city is proactively attempting to find safe locations for these people to park their vehicles at night, those who live inside their vehicles are, for the time being, parking wherever possible to ensure a peaceful night. Often, wherever possible translates to quiet residential streets in various neighborhoods sprinkled around the city.
Unsurprisingly, the residents of homes and apartments on streets where people park their cars-turned-homes dislike the often somewhat dilapidated vehicles in plain sight. They argue, in letters to the city and public comments sessions, that the raggedy RVs are a safety threat, encourage crime and dump garbage and sewage directly on the road with little regard for neighbors. Roads adjacent to schools and schools and especially public parks are also frequently used, prompting similar concerns in those locations.
The new ban is born out of those concerned residents, and specifically outlaws vehicular habitation on any residential street, defined as "any street that adjoins one or more residential single or multifamily residences."
The motion passed on Thursday also includes a fine schedule for those found to be violating the city's new statute. The first time someone is found to be illegally living in a vehicle, they will be cited $25. That amount increases to $50 the second time, and then to $75 for all citations following. This schedule also includes provision for an initial warning, awarded without a fine.
Curiously, this is not the first time Los Angeles has voted in favor of banning vehicular habitation. Back in 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down another previous ban that the city passed against living in a car, truck or RV parked on public streets. The wording of that previous ban bluntly prohibited people from living in a vehicle at any time whatsoever, without any clarification. Ruling on the case Desertrain v. Los Angeles, the 9th Circuit judges determined the old ban's language was "unconstitutionally vague" and promoted "arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement."
The 9th Circuit ruling resulted in a $1.1 million settlement paid by to the city to the law offices of Carol Sobel, a Santa Monica based attorney who's successfully sued the city multiple times over homeless related issues.
Time will tell whether or not Los Angeles will be sued over this latest ordinance. How the new rules will be enforced also remains somewhat unclear, given the only way to know whether or not someone is living inside a vehicle (RV with closed windows, at least) is to knock and wait for them to answer.
At the same time, it is still perfectly legal for someone to park their vehicle in a residential neighborhood, and sleep on the sidewalk outside of it.