People who call their vehicles home in Los Angeles no longer have to worry about being cited or arrested, now that a federal appeals court stuck down a 31-year-old law.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling that the vaguely written statute, which barred people from living in their parked vehicles, discriminates against the homeless and poor, The Associated Press reports.
“The city of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens,” Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the panel. “Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options.”
The 1983 law prohibited the use of a vehicle “as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise.”
The case was brought on behalf of four people who were cited and arrested when Los Angeles police officers concluded the belongings in their RVs and cars meant they were breaking the law. The officers were part of an LAPD homelessness task force charged with enforcing the ordinance in response to community complaints.
The plaintiff’s lawyer said at the time of the arrests one of her clients was waiting outside a church that served meals and another was driving her RV on the way to sell her work at a local art fair.
“Is it impermissible to eat food in a vehicle? Is it illegal to keep a sleeping bag? Canned food? Books? What about speaking on a cellphone? Or staying in the car to get out of the rain?” Pregerson wrote. “These are all actions plaintiffs were taking when arrested for violation of the ordinance, all of which are otherwise perfectly legal.”
Previously, a lower court sided with the city and dismissed the case without a trial.
Following Thursday’s ruling, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said the city would not appeal the decision. Instead, he and other officials will work to create a replacement ordination that respect the rights of homeless individuals while protecting the quality of life in local neighborhoods.
“We need to make a break from the past, recognize that the civil and criminal justice systems alone can’t effectively address homelessness, and commit ourselves to grappling with the issues that create homelessness in the first place,” he says.
Court overturns Los Angeles ban on living in cars [The Associated Press]