Honolulu plagued by glut of vehicles abandoned by departing servicemembers
By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 26, 2017
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Honolulu is hip-deep in vehicles abandoned by departing servicemembers, and a federal law has prevented city officials from scrapping or selling them.
“This is a problem that is affecting the citizens of the city and county, as well as the general police enforcement,” said Randy Leong, deputy director of the Department of Customer Services, which administers vehicle registrations on the island of Oahu.
“In Hawaii, space is a premium,” he said.
The bureaucratic logjam stems from the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a federal law meant to protect members of the armed forces from predatory lending practices and other abuses involving rent, legal proceedings and insurance.
The agency is now holding more than 400 vehicles that belong to soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who abandoned them when they left Hawaii, either because they left the service or were transferred to another duty station.
Without a waiver for the SCRA signed by the owner, the city cannot dispose of the vehicles.
Impound lots used by the city’s towing contractors are full, forcing the city to ask “sister departments” for additional space, Leong said.
“Fortunately for us, we had two golf courses and an old fire station that could accommodate some vehicles, so we are storing just the military-owned vehicles there,” Leong said.
In February, the city sat down with officials representing the Army, Navy and Air Force personnel on Oahu and requested help in tracking down the owners of the burgeoning number of vehicles. Leong said that the military representatives said at the time that privacy concerns prevented them from providing their contact information.
Responding to inquiries by Stars and Stripes this week, Navy Region Hawaii and U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii provided similar statements saying they were “committed” to working with the city on “locating individuals still on active duty in order to get signed permission to dispose of vehicles.”
Leong said he believes the city would be able to sell or scrap a significant number of cars if the military services would simply inform the city whether and how long a servicemember has been out of the military.
Servicemembers separated from the military for more than 90 days are no longer covered by the provisions of the SCRA, he said.
The Army and Navy statements did not indicate the services would help the city find discharged servicemembers.
Abandoned vehicles are also a problem on military bases.
“Each year dozens of cars are abandoned on base, too, and we are addressing the issue; we want to prevent any vehicles from being abandoned on base or off,” the Navy statement said.
The Army garrison’s directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation recently began an initiative designed to make it simpler for soldiers to transfer low-value vehicles to the FMWR’s Auto Skills center. Beginning Aug. 9, soldiers can transfer vehicles in working order for a $25 fee, and the cars will later be auctioned.
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam has a Clunker Program, which for a $10 fee will take a car whether it’s running or not.
The city offers free vehicle junking, provided they are left legally parked on a city roadway and include a signed Vehicle Junking Affidavit available at satellite offices of City Hall.
“There’s no downside,” Leong said.
The surplus of cars reached a peak in recent months, but Leong said it is unclear why this is so.
“I’ve been in this department for five years, and it wasn’t an issue earlier. Soldiers used to resell their vehicles; they just didn’t abandon their cars. They took measures to dispose of it or sell it themselves.”
The city has now taken steps in the “front end” to ensure that it will be able to track down servicemembers in the future, he said.
A form used by active-duty members when registering vehicles was revised earlier this month to require a Social Security number, date of birth, branch of service, mobile phone number and email address, Leong said.