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May I please pay you for new license plates?
April 30, 2008 3:04 PM   Subscribe

The state DMV won'’t let me renew my registration on my current car because I owe property taxes on the old car. Is that legal? Can the state refuse to help me comply with one law if I am potentially violating another one?

In 2007, I made a good-faith attempt to renew my registration after I noticed it had expired, and was told by the woman behind the DMV counter to drive off in my unregistered car because the DMV could not renew my registration until I sorted out property tax issues with the city where I live (this is in Virginia). My license plates were no longer even in the DMV’'s computer records because of how long I had waited to attempt to renew them. The woman behind the counter offered the example that if the police pulled me over and ran my plates, the plates would not turn up. Then she sent me on my way, refusing to take the money I wanted to pay for my renewed registration. The DMV seemed to be saying that my city's tax collectors' demands outweigh a state agency's driving regulations, which is surprising.

Fast forward to the present, where my car registration has now been expired for about two years. I understand some of you are lawyers but none of you are my lawyers. Is paying the property taxes I owe on the car I no longer own my only recourse, or is there some way I can bring my current car into compliance while I deal with the old car'’s property tax issues instead of after? I have been driving on expired tags for some time, yet with a valid driver’'s license, paid-up insurance policy and up-to-date state inspection on my car. The DMV has never sent notice that my license is suspended, and the state-approved inspection service operated by my car dealership has never had a problem with updating the inspection decal on my windshield. Why can't I put a new sticker on my license plates before I drive down to pay my tax bill?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total)
 
Can't help with the philosophical why. But the legal why is that it's state law:

DMV Hold Fee - State of Virginia Code § 46.2-752 J allows the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to refuse to issue or renew any vehicle registration of any applicant who owes to such county, city or town any local vehicle license fees or delinquent tangible personal property tax. Before being issued any vehicle registration or renewal of such license or registration by the Commissioner, the applicant shall satisfy all such local vehicle license fees and delinquent taxes. The Commissioner shall charge a reasonable fee to cover the cost of such enforcement action and the treasurer or director of finance may add the cost of this fee to the delinquent tax bill. This fee is currently set at $20.00 and is displayed as "DMV Hold Fee."*
posted by mudpuppie at 3:26 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you don't pay somebody what you owe them, then that organization, and affiliated organizations, don't want to sell stuff to you anymore. That's pretty normal.
posted by winston at 4:34 PM on April 30, 2008


Why? Because Virginia has found that revoking driving privileges is a really good method of coercing people to do what they want them to do. If they let you re-register your car before you paid your delinquent property tax, what incentive do you have to pay the property tax (which is doubtless greater than the cost to renew your registration)? If you can't drive your car legally or park it on the street legally, you have a lot more incentive to settle up your bill with the Commonwealth/county/municipality.
posted by weebil at 4:59 PM on April 30, 2008


My friend told me he had the same problem (we are in Virginia as well). But this is the thing, I went to renew my registration two weeks ago for my car and I got it no problem. I owe back car taxes on the car I'm currently driving as well as two others that I don't even own anymore. So maybe it's just the roll of the dice? Maybe try again at another location.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:02 PM on April 30, 2008


So maybe it's just the roll of the dice? Maybe try again at another location.

Hmm. Looking at the actual statute, it's on a county-by-county basis. However, the statute also requires counties who choose to deny registration to actually notify the car owner 30 days prior to the expiration of the registration.

Beginning October 1, 1992, the treasurer or director of finance of any county, city, or town may enter into an agreement with the Commissioner whereby the Commissioner will refuse to issue or renew any vehicle registration of any applicant therefor who owes to such county, city or town any local vehicle license fees or delinquent tangible personal property tax or parking citations issued only to residents of such county, city, or town. Before being issued any vehicle registration or renewal of such license or registration by the Commissioner, the applicant shall first satisfy all such local vehicle license fees and delinquent taxes or parking citations and present evidence satisfactory to the Commissioner that all such local vehicle license fees and delinquent taxes or parking citations have been paid in full....

Any agreement entered into pursuant to the provisions of this subsection shall provide the debtor notice of the intent to deny renewal of registration at least 30 days prior to the expiration date of a current vehicle registration. For the purposes of this subsection, notice by first-class mail to the registrant's address as maintained in the records of the Department of Motor Vehicles shall be deemed sufficient.


From the original question: Is paying the property taxes I owe on the car I no longer own my only recourse, or is there some way I can bring my current car into compliance while I deal with the old car'’s property tax issues instead of after?

I think the answer is The Former. I'm sketchy on the timeline, though. Your property taxes have been unpaid since at least 2007, when you initially tried to renew the registration and couldn't. Your registration is at least two years out of date. It sounds to me like your only legitimate recourse would be to prove that they neglected to give you notice. But, that would only work if the property taxes were unpaid two years ago, when the registration was still current. They would have had to notify you at least a month before the registration was to expire (again, 2 years ago).

However, that ultimately would put you in the position of whining about the consequences of having an unpaid tax debt over two years old, and it hardly seems likely that you'd get very far THAT way.

So yeah, basically it sounds like you have to pony up. Yes, you're driving illegally now. No, they're not going to remedy that for you. It's sort of like when they put the boot on your car for unpaid parking tickets. Only this way, they let you metaphorically hang yourself and get into more trouble instead of just immobilizing you.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:48 PM on April 30, 2008


So maybe it's just the roll of the dice? Maybe try again at another location.

Hmm. Looking at the actual statute, it's on a county-by-county basis. However, the statute also requires counties who choose to deny registration to actually notify the car owner 30 days prior to the expiration of the registration.


Both my friend and I are registered with Richmond City so it's weird we both had different outcomes.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:05 PM on April 30, 2008


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