Michael and Pam Bosen think governments that legislate against junk cars are discriminating against the poor.
The couple keeps three old cars at their Magna house. Michael, who has five years of experience as a mechanic, tries to keep them running. Otherwise, the rest of the house is tidy enough that it recently won a House of the Year award from a Magna community council.But until mid-April, the couple was in violation of Salt Lake County's junk-car ordinance.
"Frankly, I don't think it's anybody's business what someone does on their property as long as it doesn't hurt anybody," Pam said. "You can't just order a part in one day for a car that old. For the people rich enough, it's no problem for them. This is an issue of rich vs. poor."
The county's new ordinance allows people in unincorporated areas to keep cars that don't run, provided the cars are properly licensed and registered, and provided they are not visible from the street and are locked and covered.
County officials said their planning and zoning offices receive more complaints about junk cars than almost any other issue. Some call to complain about their neighbor's cars. Others complain they have a right to do as they please on their own land.
The changes in the county's junk-car law were prompted partly by a petition signed by more than 100 people.
County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said more people complain about a lack of sidewalks and about animal problems, but he said junk-cars do pose a problem. He said the cars, in some instances, can ruin a neighborhood's appearance.
"We need to train our public works people to see and report instances where they see junk cars lying around someone's house," Horiuchi said. "We don't want to promote vigilantism, but we want to promote pride."
The Bosens think the county's changes are good, but they still aren't pleased with the regulations. Michael said he has no problem with keeping things tidy, he just wonders why car enthusiasts are singled out.
"People with hobbies other than old cars don't have their projects hauled off," he said.
As for Pam, she wishes the county would pay more attention to the three dogs and 32 cats she said her neighbors own and let run freely.
Junk cars are an issue in virtually all governments along the Wasatch Front. Here is a summary of how some of them treat the issue:
West Valley City
The city's junk-car ordinance says it's unlawful for "any scrap metal, junk, wrecked, abandoned or inoperable vehicle or vehicle parts to remain on any property or premises, unless in connection with a lawfully situated and licensed business."
However, there is an exemption to the ordinance "if an inoperable vehicle is being repaired, the required taxes are currently paid, and a nuisance or health hazard is not created."
Junk cars are included in the rubbish ordinance. Residents can have one junk car, provided it's out of sight (in a garage or behind a fence, or in the backyard) and providing they are working on it. It can't be a car sitting untouched for 30 years.
Zoning ordinances say it's illegal to use parts of your property to store scrap metal or junk vehicles. The exception: If an inoperable vehicle is being repaired, the required taxes are currently paid, and a nuisance or health hazard does not exist. It doesn't limit the number of cars.
"We have people moving cars all the time off property. They harbor rodents, rats, etc., so the county health department does help us. We have one case where we had 26 vehicles on one residential lot. We went after them and got them moved," said Randy B. Hart, assistant city attorney.
South Salt Lake
The city's policy is to leave cars alone if people have paid taxes on them, have tarps on them and are working on them - unless there are a lot of cars in one yard. The city doesn't allow the situation to become long-term.
An unlicensed car must be stored in a garage or outside of residential areas. Violators are subject to a $299 fine. The city gets 20 to 30 complaints per year, but about 98 percent of the cases are settled without going to court, said City Manager Tom Hardy.
The city has an ordinance defining junk cars. It is involved now in a case with a resident but declined to give specifics pending possible court action. The problem is periodic, one city official said.
The city defines a junk car as "any vehicle that is not currently registered or licensed." Woods Cross has a continual problem with junk cars but has been making enforcement efforts to solve the problem. Offenders who do not remove junk cars can be cited and fined. Ironically, Woods Cross city has an auto junk yard just across the street from city hall on the southwest.
The city doesn't care if you have an old, ugly car sitting on your property. But the "nuisance ordinance" makes it a class B misdemeanor if those cars pose a potential health or safety hazard, City Manager Jack Bippes said.
On the first violation, the city would issue a "fix-it" ticket that orders the owner to fix it or face prosecution. "If they don't move it, we would take them to court," Bippes said. The city receives only a handful of complaints per year.