In 2014, a nationwide survey by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found that the number of cities with ordinances that effectively criminalized vehicle habitation increased by 119% between 2011 and 2014. These ordinances take the form of metered street parking zones, permit-only parking zones, time restrictions, restrictions on vehicle operability, restrictions regarding licensing and registration, and even prohibitions directed specifically at vehicle habitation. Violations of these policies typically result in noncriminal citations imposing fees, requiring attendance at hearings, or inflicting other financial burdens, which nevertheless can have devastating impacts on someone with already limited resources. Additionally, the effects of these typically noncriminal citations can be exacerbated by the implementation of “scofflaw ordinances.” Scofflaw ordinances escalate penalties and financial burdens by allowing for the extrajudicial impoundment of the targeted vehicle for specific violations, such as accumulating a certain threshold of unpaid fines, or exceeding specified time restrictions. These restrictions are typically justified by municipalities as necessary to address public order or health and safety concerns; however, the policies are also driven by pressure from community members who fear that allowing overnight parking will invite problems stereotypically associated with vehicle residents. Two recent Ninth Circuit opinions indicate a possible shift in the bench’s general reluctance to entertain judicial interventions on behalf of homeless individuals. Because of those indications, actions seeking other such novel interventions could be filed as potential test cases. A case raising such a novel statutory claim, under Washington’s Homestead Act, was recently rejected in Seattle Municipal Court; however, that decision was subsequently overturned on appeal in King County Superior Court. That action and the specific novel claim raised will be introduced in Part II of this Note. Part III will explore two federal cases that signal a possible shift away from the bench’s general hostility toward judicial activism on issues of homelessness and homeless rights by reaching limited constitutional interventions. Part IV will present a closer examination of Washington’s Homestead Act from both a textual interpretation and historical perspective to determine how amenable it might be as a path for judicial intervention. Part V will conclude by describing why Washington State courts should heed the signals of the Ninth Circuit and apply similar interventionist reasoning as the superior court in the Seattle test case when interpreting the Homestead Act.
T. Ray Ivey, The Criminalization of Vehicle Residency and the Case for Judicial Intervention via the Washington State Homestead Act, 42 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 243 (2018).