A federal appeals court panel struck down Los Angeles’ ban on using parked vehicles as “living quarters” on Thursday, ruling that the law is unconstitutional because it discriminates against the homeless and impoverished.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena unanimously ruled that the city’s 1983 ordinance, which bans people from living in cars or recreational vehicles on city streets or in parking lots, is unconstitutionally vague and “criminalizes innocent behavior.”
“This broad and cryptic statute criminalizes innocent behavior, making it impossible for citizens to know how to keep their conduct within the pale,” Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the court.
A group of homeless car dwellers sued the city in 2011 but lost in Los Angeles federal court, leading to the appeal.
The Los Angeles law prohibits the use of vehicles as living quarters both overnight and “day-by-day, or otherwise.”
A representative for the City Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In overturning the lower court, the appeals panel said the law had caused “arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”
Pregerson wrote that the statute is so vague that it could “cover any driver in Los Angeles who eats food or transports personal belongings in his or her vehicle,” but it “appears to be applied only to the homeless.”
When Los Angeles police began aggressively enforcing the ban in 2010 after complaints from Venice residents, city officials said the law was designed to protect health and safety.
However, the appeals court determined that “arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is exactly what has occurred here,” according to the ruling.