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Used cars statute not perfect, but fills void

City officials agree that Atmore’s new ordinance regulating used car sales and used car lots might not be perfect. But, they say, the city’s new set of rules and regulations governing the sale of previously owned vehicles provides a guide that previously didn’t exist.

“We were just trying to clean up some things, trying to make it a little stronger,” said Mayor Jim Staff, who said the ordinance was a hybrid built from several sources. “We looked at the ordinances in three or four different cities and took what applied to us. I think it makes things a lot clearer.”

Codes Enforcement Officer Chris Black said the addition to city code of legislation that regulates the licensing and operation of used-vehicle dealers is a welcome one.

“We now have a used car ordinance,” Black said. “Until this was passed, there wasn’t anything in the city code that dealt specifically with used cars or used car dealers.”

One of the key components of the new city ordinance is the licensing requirement, which mandates that each business license issued to a car lot or used car dealer will be location-specific.

Staff pointed out that minor problems have cropped up in the past, when some licensees parked used cars on adjoining property or at other locations that were not listed on their licenses because there was nothing on the city books to prohibit such action.

“The ordinance is worded so that it’s clear that the license is good for just one place,” he said.

The new ordinance reads that “for each place at which any (used car) business is carried on, a separate license shall be paid.” It requires that a person applying for a license to sell used cars, trucks, SUVs or other vehicles “shall designate the place at which business is carried on, and the license … shall designate such place, and such license shall authorize the carrying on of such business only at the place designated.”

There is one exception. If the owner of a licensed used car business owns a lot or parcel of land that adjoins the lot or parcel of land where the licensed business is located, “such person, firm, or corporation may display used cars on the adjoining property.” Still, the adjoining property must be properly zoned, no other business can exist on it, and all other city codes and regulations must be satisfied.

Staff said one local licensee was especially bold, displaying used cars for sell in three different locations, although the license was issued for only one.

“This will stop that from happening again,” said the mayor.

Gray area
One part of the new statute that is left to interpretation is Section 3, Provision 1, which makes it “unlawful for anyone to park used cars for sale on commercially zoned property which is not specifically licensed for the sale of used cars.”

The ordinance does not directly address licensed auto repair shops that regularly sell cars that have been repaired but whose owner has refused to pay for or is unable to pay for the repair work.

The mayor pointed out that such a transaction “would really be like the customer is selling the car to pay for the repairs,” but Black said the new ordinance made such sales a technical violation unless the repair shop has a used car sales license.

“In the case of a mechanic’s lien, a repair shop probably would not have to have one,” he said. “But the ordinance says it’s unlawful for anyone to park cars for sale on commercial property that’s not licensed to sell used cars. So, technically (the repair shop) does (need a license); but that’s not the intent.”

Cars in the yard
The new ordinance also deals with used cars that are advertised for sale and displayed in residential areas. While it doesn’t prohibit such offerings, it does limit the scope of them. And it appears through its wording that only property owners may be a party to such transactions.

The document’s general provisions include that “it shall be unlawful … to park used cars for sale on residential property except where the owner of the property is also the owner of the used car being offered for sale.” Even then, “no more than one (1) used car shall be parked for display or sold on such property in one (1) calendar year.”

“It’s one of those things where you have to use common sense,” Black said. “It does sound like just people that own property can put their cars up for sale in their yards, but that’s not what it was meant to do.”

Close enough to perfect?
One of the ordinance’s strong points is the requirement that “disabled, damaged or inoperable vehicles shall not be permitted to remain in an exterior location unless screened from public view.” Such screened areas will only be allowed “in areas to the side or the rear of the principal structure or dealership.”

There are also restrictions built into the municipal legislation banning the display of used cars along a public right-of-way, in a spot that will restrict access to public utilities or public safety personnel and equipment, or in any place that obstructs a motorist’s line of sight.

The ordinance even contains requirements for the arrangement of used car inventory and specific provisions for customer parking at used car lots or displays.

The parking mandate includes that such space must comply with all local codes and ordinances, as well as with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It might not be perfect; we might have to do some more work on it, but I’ll tell you what,” began Staff’s overall assessment, “it’s a lot better than what we had.”