Curbstoning — buyer beware!

OKEECHOBEE — When Detective Mark Shireman began talking about the offense of curbstoning there was no doubt as to the veracity of his statement: “There’s a developing problem in Okeechobee County.”

And he backed up his statement by alluding to the two cases he handled just this week in which two people were warned they were breaking the law, and a vehicle was towed.

Although curbstoning is not necessarily a new law, until recently it just wasn’t talked about or investigated that much. However, just like the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) detective said, it’s a serious problem that’s growing.

Simply put, curbstoning is the practice of parking a vehicle in an area on a public street, public parking lot or private or public property where the public has a right to travel by motor vehicle, for the purpose of and intent of displaying the vehicle for sale, hire or rent.

Some examples of curbstoning include:
• Sales of vehicles by licensed motor vehicle dealers at locations other than their licensed location without an off-premises permit;
• Parking and offering for sale one’s personal vehicle on the right of way of any street, highway or any private property — where the public has the right to travel by motor vehicle — without expressed permission of the property owner; or,
• Engaging in the business of selling motor vehicles without a motor vehicle dealer license.

This law, however, does not apply to a person parking their vehicle on their own property for the purpose of selling, renting or hiring that vehicle. An individual could also park their vehicle on property they don’t own if they have the landowner’s permission to do so.

While a licensed dealer can display or sell vehicles off premises, they can only do so if they have been issued a supplemental license for off-premises sales. If a licensed dealer displays vehicles for sale without the proper license, the vehicles will be immediately removed without warning.

Which, pointed out Detective Shireman, can be expensive.

“It will cost the violator tow fees, storage fees at the tow yard and a $500 administrative fee — for each vehicle,” he said.

Besides those fees, violators can also be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor — again, for each vehicle.

The curbstoning law, continued the detective, applies to all registered vehicles which includes motorcycles and mobile homes.

Detective Shireman said he investigated two instances of curbstoning Monday, Oct. 23, in Okeechobee County.

In the first instance, the detective saw a Ford F-150 parked on a lot on U.S. 441 North. He took down the vehicle identification number (VIN) then paid a visit to the Okeechobee County Tax Collector’s Office, where he did some research on the vehicle’s title history.

He learned the registered owner lives in Miami, there was no registration for the truck and it was listed as rebuilt.

Detective Shireman then had fellow OCSO detective Corporal Rosemary Farless call the phone number posted on the pickup and set up a time to look at the vehicle.

They later met with a man and his son and learned they held only an open title on the vehicle, and neither the dad’s name nor his son’s name was on the title.

“They had not disclosed the truck was a ‘rebuilt’ vehicle and the vehicle was parked at this location for sale against statute,” stated Detective Shireman’s report.

The man and his son were warned and told they could be arrested if they did not have a license. They removed the truck.

The second case was similar, except that the 2008 Nissan Altima parked on S.R. 70 West had a salvage title from the State of Georgia.

“No Florida title was located,” stated the detective’s report. “There was no vehicle registration in Georgia or Florida and the vehicle, if currently titled as salvage, is not operable on Florida roadways.”

The detective then had a local tow company respond and had the Nissan towed away.

According to the detective’s report the man selling the vehicle said he was working for a dealership in Miami and gave Detective Shireman that dealership’s phone number.

The detective called the number and spoke with the owner of the car lot.

“I explained (to him) if he could fax me the rebuilt Florida title he would only have to pay towing and today’s storage to retrieve the vehicle,” stated the OCSO investigator. “(The owner) later faxed a Florida rebuilt title for the car and the vehicle was released to the owner after paying tow and storage.”

While a vehicle with a salvage title cannot be driven on any of Florida’s roadways, Detective Shireman  explained that a car “… with a salvage title can be inspected and if it passes inspection it can receive a rebuilt title which will then make it legal to drive.”

Consumers looking to buy an inexpensive vehicle need to be cautious, added the detective.

“People should know these vehicles along the side of the road are not great vehicles,” he said.

Before making a purchase, the buyer should:
• Find out if the seller has the vehicle’s title in hand.
• What does the title say (salvage, rebuilt, etc.)?
• Does the seller try to offer financing options?
• Be wary of the vehicle’s condition. Have someone with you who knows cars.
• If a vehicle is parked along side the road, why is it not at a dealership? What’s wrong with it?
• Whose name appears on the title — is it a dealership or an individual?

“Ultimately, from what I know, no car is safe to buy off the side of the road,” Detective Shireman offered. “And, since it’s a civil transaction, law enforcement cannot help you.

“So, buyer beware. Be careful what you buy,” he added.

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