Thousands of Californians Live in Cars. Will This Man’s Lawsuit Stop Cities From Impounding Them?

Sean Kayode says he watched his whole world roll away from him at 3:00 a.m. Kayode had been living in his car in San Francisco for about two years. During the early morning of March 5, traffic police towed and impounded his black 2005 Mercedes Benz — for having too many overdue parking tickets.

“I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and there was a guy behind me. And I’m like, ‘What are you doing behind my car?’” Kayode said while standing in the lobby of the Next Door homeless shelter in downtown San Francisco. “He says, ‘I’m just waiting for the tow truck to come get you.'”

For Kayode, who now lives at Next Door, his car wasn’t just a place to sleep, it was how he earned a living, he said, delivering food through Uber Eats. He shakes his head in disbelief at where he was, and where he is now.

“I am a homeless guy that worked my way out of homelessness,” Kayode said. “Bought my own car. Now you’ve taken my car, taken my job and now you’re giving me food stamps. It doesn’t make sense.”

Is it Unconstitutional to Impound a Car for Unpaid Tickets?

An estimated half million cars a year in California are impounded, unclaimed and sold, according to Jude Pond of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco. He said many of those cars belonged to poor people living in them.

Pond helped file a lawsuit on Kayode’s behalf to challenge the California law that allows cities to tow a car away if that car has five or more overdue parking tickets. Many cities follow that policy, and Pond said it’s unconstitutional in several ways.

The government should not be allowed to take someone’s property without any notice and without a warrant, he said. That’s doubly true because these vehicles weren’t used in a crime, but were towed simply for financial reasons — just to collect fines.

Cities do not issue warnings, outside of the fine print on a parking ticket, that they’re coming to impound a vehicle. Parking officers just show up and take it away. And in the case of the homeless who live in their cars, city officials are taking their temporary home from them, which raises the stakes above the taking of a vehicle, Pond said.

“We’re hoping that this case sets the precedent that the city should not take people’s only asset — in this case their car — for the purpose of satisfying a debt, based on just outstanding parking tickets,” Pond said.

In San Francisco, officers towing a car with a homeless occupant will contact the police department and social services to help that person get services, according to Paul Rose, spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, who responded by email.

“There will be times when the [Homeless Outreach Team] will not be available to respond. If there is no urgency regarding the towing of the vehicle we will make an effort to delay the tow to allow services to respond,” Rose said. “We cannot completely avoid the removal of the vehicle as this would create an unintended exemption for vehicles that are in violation of city or state law.”

Sean Kayode, outside the Next Door homeless shelter in San Francisco on July 26, 2018. Kayode is suing the city, saying he lost his means of food-delivery employment and his home when his car was impounded in March — for having too many parking tickets.
Sean Kayode, outside the Next Door homeless shelter in San Francisco on July 26, 2018. Kayode is suing the city, saying he lost his means of food-delivery employment and his home when his car was impounded in March — for having too many parking tickets. (David Gorn/CALmatters)

A Tipping Point Toward Homelessness

Tens of thousands of Californians are living in their cars. Because losing those cars to impoundment can mean the loss of work and home, it can be a tipping point into a life on the streets.

For many people, having their car towed for overdue parking tickets is a major annoyance and life disruption. But for homeless people, it’s a permanent loss, because most of them cannot afford to recover their cars.

The costs escalate quickly.

Offenders must reimburse the tow charge, roughly $500. They also need to pay off their original tickets and the accrued fines on those tickets, which can be $1,000 or more. On top of all of that, it usually costs $71 for each day the car is stored at the tow yard.

In Kayode’s case, more than five months after his car was impounded, it would cost him more than $21,000 to get his car back.

That’s about $20,000 more than he paid for it.

Ostensibly, the city is towing the car to collect a debt, but in many cases where cars are unclaimed and eventually sold, the city doesn’t make much money on the sale, if anything. That’s because the tow yard has first dibs on any cash collected.

For the cities, though, it’s not about the money, according to UCLA political expert Zev Yaroslavsky.

“It’s the credibility of the restrictions,” Yaroslavsky said. “If the restrictions were not enforced, then no one would comply with them. The reason you and I rush out to the parking meter when it’s about to expire, to put another quarter in there, is because we don’t want to pay $80 for the privilege of having overstayed our welcome by a minute.”

The quickly escalating costs of having a vehicle impounded usually mean poor Californians can’t afford to get their cars back. Including original tickets, accrued fines and charges for towing and impounding, it would now cost Sean Kayode more than $21,000 to get his car back.
The quickly escalating costs of having a vehicle impounded usually mean poor Californians can’t afford to get their cars back. Including original tickets, accrued fines and charges for towing and impounding, it would now cost Sean Kayode more than $21,000 to get his car back. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Yaroslavsky spent four decades in local government in Los Angeles, most of it on the county Board of Supervisors. He said he understands why cities hold onto their impound power with both hands.

“As a local elected official I was never concerned about the revenue stream we were getting out of the parking,” Yaroslavsky said. “It was motivated by getting turnover in the limited parking spaces we had available at curbside.”

At the same time, he said, there has to be a middle ground when towing cars from the homeless.

“It makes absolutely no sense to take a homeless person’s car, confiscating it, impounding it. If you take away their car, they’re going to be on the street. That’s not a benefit to society. Common sense has to be in play.”

At the moment, though, the middle ground is hard to find.

Homeless advocates say cities could make exceptions for extremely low-income citizens — maybe let them hold onto the car, but pay off the tickets in installments.

Some cities, including San Francisco, have a payment-plan program — but nothing in place to return cars to the homeless or restrict impoundment of those cars in the first place.

A federal district court judge in San Francisco is expected to hear Kayode’s motion in September for a preliminary injunction to get his car back. A hearing on his lawsuit would be scheduled after a ruling on the injunction.

Of course, if the preliminary injunction is granted and San Francisco has to return Kayode’s car, he will still technically owe that $21,000 in parking, towing and storage fees until the case is decided.

Kayode, who has been homeless for the past six years, looks back on the incident and its aftermath with a mixture of anger and despair.

“If I have my car, I have my phone. That’s all I need. I can earn money,” Kayode said. “But right now, they are holding my car hostage. What I want to know is, does taking my car from me help the city budget in one way or another? Is my car going to make them or break them?”

He stops a moment, looks around the crowded and chaotic lobby of the homeless shelter he now calls home.

“I am back in the same hole,” Kayode said. “And I don’t have any way to get out.”

The California Dream series is a statewide media collaboration of CALmatters, KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the James Irvine Foundation and the College Futures Foundation.

HOA Maintenance, Capital Improvements and Useful Life: Are You Prepared?

“Should we fix this component…or replace it entirely?”
“Is this maintenance job becoming a capital improvement?”
“How can we extend a component’s useful life?”

Do these questions sound familiar? The truth is everyone in your homeowners association (HOA) wants your property’s components to continue to function smoothly and look good. That requires undertaking necessary routine maintenance and repairs as well as capital improvement projects. Properly funding these two types of activities depends primarily on your knowledge of how they differ and how they work together and a deeper understanding of useful life and reserve studies.

To learn more about the importance of budgeting for maintenance and capital improvements, read on and complete the form below to download our helpful white paper,Pay Now or Pay (More) Later? Making the Most of Your Reserve Study and Maintenance Budget.

If you’re like many residents (and even board members) who live in HOAs across California, you may not understand every single thing about maintenance, capital improvements and useful life. Not to worry! We’re here to explain the relationship between maintenance and capital improvement projects and how you should partner with your California HOA management company to budget for them. And to make sure your management company is on the same page with you in terms of maintenance and budgeting projects, read our article, “React, Outsource, or Prevent? Find Your Association’s Maintenance Style.”

What’s Considered Maintenance?

As a refresher for you, day-to-day and preventative maintenance are activities that are meant to restore components to their original condition and prevent them from deteriorating any further. These activities should be funded in your budget as expenses under the “Repairs & Maintenance” (R&M) line item.

With proper maintenance, components have a better chance of reaching their expected useful life. For example, activities such as making repairs to your irrigation systems, landscaping, touching up the paint in your hallways, regular cleaning of your pool, changing lightbulbs and other tasks that your HOA property management company attends to frequently or on an ongoing basis are classified as maintenance jobs.

What’s Considered a Capital Improvement?

A major replacement or repair that will increase a component’s market value beyond its original or current state should be categorized as a capital improvement. Generally, you will undertake this type of project to reduce future operational costs (such as utility or maintenance costs) or to enhance your residents’ quality of service. For example, if you replace your building’s roof, upgrade to a more energy-efficient ventilation system or install LED lighting throughout your community, you are undertaking a capital improvement project.

Capital improvement projects should be funded from your reserves rather than from your operational budget. Since these projects are costly, your HOA management company needs to plan for them and collect money over time to pay for them. That’s where a reserve studycomes in. Having a qualified reserve study specialist conduct a study helps you determine which components will need to be replaced, how much more useful life they are likely to have, the estimated cost for the project and the annual amount of money your association needs to put into your reserve fund to pay for it.

How Do You Determine “Useful Life”?

The amount of time that a component will serve its original purpose is referred to as its “useful life.” “Every component has a useful life given to it by the manufacturer,” said Rodney Riepenhoff, reserve study specialist and corporate engineer for FirstService Residential.

Manufacturers estimate useful life based on certain assumptions about a component. However, factors like additional wear and tear, regulatory changes, environmental conditions or unexpected obsolescence can affect its actual useful life.

How Do You Make Sure Maintenance and Capital Improvements Work Together?

How closely your management company adheres to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule will significantly impact a component’s actual useful life. Riepenhoff points out, “Many communities do not do all the required maintenance, often because of the cost.”

In the long run, however, this can wind up costing the HOA more because it reduces the component’s useful life. The need to replace a component sooner than expected not only means reducing the return on investment (ROI) of that component, but it also means having an unexpected expense for the new component. More than likely, your HOA will not yet have enough in your reserve if the amount you’ve been putting aside was based on a later replacement date.

The lack of an updated reserve study is often to blame when an HOA is unaware that its preventative maintenance has been inadequate. “Or the HOA hires a third-party vendor that is not doing the necessary work, and they have no checks and balances in place,” said Riepenhoff.

How Do You Extend “Useful Life”?

Diligent maintenance can actually extend a component’s useful life. For instance, if replacing certain parts on a component allows it to function more efficiently or if your materials are of a higher quality, the component is likely to last longer than expected.

One Los Angeles high-rise association learned about the relationship between maintenance and capital expenditures the hard way. Inadequate guidance and support from its community management company resulted in years of neglected preventative maintenance at the 228-unit high-rise. This included unresolved water drainage issues from the pool and surrounding area, which caused numerous leaks into the parking lot below. Riepenhoff evaluated the issue when FirstService Residential took over the HOA management services. While resolving the drainage problem did require a $120,000-capital improvement project, this was $280,000 less than a previously recommended improvement. Additionally, the association now has a maintenance plan to help prevent costly damage to the community in the future.

Riepenhoff does warn that it’s possible to overdo maintenance. Some communities continue to maintain a component when it would be more cost effective to replace it. How do you know when it’s time to replace rather than maintain? Riepenhoff said, “When the yearly cost outweighs the replacement cost, it’s time to replace it.”

Can a Maintenance Job Become a Capital Expenditure?

There are definitely times when your HOA receives the unexpected news that a maintenance job is not enough to resolve an issue. A deeper look into the problem might uncover surprises that turn the job into a capital improvement project. For example, you may have had a leak in your roof that you assumed required a simple patching. However, when your roofers examined the problem, they found more widespread damage that requires a roof replacement. Originally, the maintenance job would have been funded out of your operational budget. Now, your HOA will need to pay for the project out of your reserve fund. (Hopefully, you have the necessary money in your reserves.)

Which Criteria Differentiates Maintenance From Capital Improvements?

When to categorize an expenditure as a “maintenance job” versus a “capital improvement project” is a case-by-case determination. Some factors you should consider include:

  • The component’s value
  • Your goal in performing the work
  • The scope of the work
  • The actual result
  • How the work will affect the component’s value, equity return and depreciation

Now that you have a better understanding of the purpose of maintenance and capital improvement work at your community, you can budget for your projects more effectively. Matching your maintenance plan to your capital improvements will help improve your community’s property value and enhance the comfort, safety and enjoyment of every resident.

HOA Maintenance, Capital Improvements and Useful Life: Are You Prepared?

“Should we fix this component…or replace it entirely?”
“Is this maintenance job becoming a capital improvement?”
“How can we extend a component’s useful life?”

Do these questions sound familiar? The truth is everyone in your homeowners association (HOA) wants your property’s components to continue to function smoothly and look good. That requires undertaking necessary routine maintenance and repairs as well as capital improvement projects. Properly funding these two types of activities depends primarily on your knowledge of how they differ and how they work together and a deeper understanding of useful life and reserve studies.

To learn more about the importance of budgeting for maintenance and capital improvements, read on and complete the form below to download our helpful white paper,Pay Now or Pay (More) Later? Making the Most of Your Reserve Study and Maintenance Budget.

If you’re like many residents (and even board members) who live in HOAs across California, you may not understand every single thing about maintenance, capital improvements and useful life. Not to worry! We’re here to explain the relationship between maintenance and capital improvement projects and how you should partner with your California HOA management company to budget for them. And to make sure your management company is on the same page with you in terms of maintenance and budgeting projects, read our article, “React, Outsource, or Prevent? Find Your Association’s Maintenance Style.”

What’s Considered Maintenance?

As a refresher for you, day-to-day and preventative maintenance are activities that are meant to restore components to their original condition and prevent them from deteriorating any further. These activities should be funded in your budget as expenses under the “Repairs & Maintenance” (R&M) line item.

With proper maintenance, components have a better chance of reaching their expected useful life. For example, activities such as making repairs to your irrigation systems, landscaping, touching up the paint in your hallways, regular cleaning of your pool, changing lightbulbs and other tasks that your HOA property management company attends to frequently or on an ongoing basis are classified as maintenance jobs.

What’s Considered a Capital Improvement?

A major replacement or repair that will increase a component’s market value beyond its original or current state should be categorized as a capital improvement. Generally, you will undertake this type of project to reduce future operational costs (such as utility or maintenance costs) or to enhance your residents’ quality of service. For example, if you replace your building’s roof, upgrade to a more energy-efficient ventilation system or install LED lighting throughout your community, you are undertaking a capital improvement project.

Capital improvement projects should be funded from your reserves rather than from your operational budget. Since these projects are costly, your HOA management company needs to plan for them and collect money over time to pay for them. That’s where a reserve studycomes in. Having a qualified reserve study specialist conduct a study helps you determine which components will need to be replaced, how much more useful life they are likely to have, the estimated cost for the project and the annual amount of money your association needs to put into your reserve fund to pay for it.

How Do You Determine “Useful Life”?

The amount of time that a component will serve its original purpose is referred to as its “useful life.” “Every component has a useful life given to it by the manufacturer,” said Rodney Riepenhoff, reserve study specialist and corporate engineer for FirstService Residential.

Manufacturers estimate useful life based on certain assumptions about a component. However, factors like additional wear and tear, regulatory changes, environmental conditions or unexpected obsolescence can affect its actual useful life.

How Do You Make Sure Maintenance and Capital Improvements Work Together?

How closely your management company adheres to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule will significantly impact a component’s actual useful life. Riepenhoff points out, “Many communities do not do all the required maintenance, often because of the cost.”

In the long run, however, this can wind up costing the HOA more because it reduces the component’s useful life. The need to replace a component sooner than expected not only means reducing the return on investment (ROI) of that component, but it also means having an unexpected expense for the new component. More than likely, your HOA will not yet have enough in your reserve if the amount you’ve been putting aside was based on a later replacement date.

The lack of an updated reserve study is often to blame when an HOA is unaware that its preventative maintenance has been inadequate. “Or the HOA hires a third-party vendor that is not doing the necessary work, and they have no checks and balances in place,” said Riepenhoff.

How Do You Extend “Useful Life”?

Diligent maintenance can actually extend a component’s useful life. For instance, if replacing certain parts on a component allows it to function more efficiently or if your materials are of a higher quality, the component is likely to last longer than expected.

One Los Angeles high-rise association learned about the relationship between maintenance and capital expenditures the hard way. Inadequate guidance and support from its community management company resulted in years of neglected preventative maintenance at the 228-unit high-rise. This included unresolved water drainage issues from the pool and surrounding area, which caused numerous leaks into the parking lot below. Riepenhoff evaluated the issue when FirstService Residential took over the HOA management services. While resolving the drainage problem did require a $120,000-capital improvement project, this was $280,000 less than a previously recommended improvement. Additionally, the association now has a maintenance plan to help prevent costly damage to the community in the future.

Riepenhoff does warn that it’s possible to overdo maintenance. Some communities continue to maintain a component when it would be more cost effective to replace it. How do you know when it’s time to replace rather than maintain? Riepenhoff said, “When the yearly cost outweighs the replacement cost, it’s time to replace it.”

Can a Maintenance Job Become a Capital Expenditure?

There are definitely times when your HOA receives the unexpected news that a maintenance job is not enough to resolve an issue. A deeper look into the problem might uncover surprises that turn the job into a capital improvement project. For example, you may have had a leak in your roof that you assumed required a simple patching. However, when your roofers examined the problem, they found more widespread damage that requires a roof replacement. Originally, the maintenance job would have been funded out of your operational budget. Now, your HOA will need to pay for the project out of your reserve fund. (Hopefully, you have the necessary money in your reserves.)

Which Criteria Differentiates Maintenance From Capital Improvements?

When to categorize an expenditure as a “maintenance job” versus a “capital improvement project” is a case-by-case determination. Some factors you should consider include:

  • The component’s value
  • Your goal in performing the work
  • The scope of the work
  • The actual result
  • How the work will affect the component’s value, equity return and depreciation

Now that you have a better understanding of the purpose of maintenance and capital improvement work at your community, you can budget for your projects more effectively. Matching your maintenance plan to your capital improvements will help improve your community’s property value and enhance the comfort, safety and enjoyment of every resident.