March 24, 2020

A Shopping Cart by Any Other Name is Still a Buggy

Whether you call it a shopping cart or a buggy, everyone agrees that they are a nuisance when abandoned. Left in public rights-of-way, abandoned carts can be a significant eyesore in a residential neighborhood, cause property damage to buildings and vehicles, and have even been responsible for at least one fatality in the United States. These facts are sobering considering this issue is often viewed as simply an aesthetic annoyance.

While taking carts from business property may be criminal theft, many businesses appear relatively permissive about customers using carts to take purchases home. If a citizen has permission to take the cart, then it is not theft. Another problem with charging criminal theft is that it may not help solve the problem. If the carts are abandoned, who do you charge? If they had permission to take them from the business, what do you charge them with? If you just collect the carts and no one will come retrieve them, what does the city do? Cities looking to address the problem will struggle to hold someone accountable for abandoned carts in a manner that truly keeps them out of public rights-of-way.

Cities across the country have sought a solution to the abandoned cart problem for at least a decade. Several cities have even passed ordinances requiring any business with more than 26 carts to submit an abandoned cart prevention plan and base corrective action on compliance with those plans. That solution may not be the best for your city, but there are other solutions that may help reduce the number of abandoned carts in your city:

Create a criminal or civil penalty for removing carts from a business premises without permission. Require permission to remove carts from the premises in writing, with the date and time on the permission form. Mandate that even with written permission, carts must be returned within 72 hours. Require businesses to attach an identification tag to each cart. Require businesses to lock any carts stored outdoors in a manner that prevents theft. Create a penalty for businesses that fail to retrieve abandoned carts within 24 hours of notification by the city. If the carts are not retrieved after 24 hours, they will be deemed impounded and can be reclaimed for $100/cart within 60 days or forfeited to the city for disposition.

As with all issues facing cities, there is no perfect solution; however, there are tools available to cities. Your city attorney can assist you in drafting as simple or complex an ordinance as your city needs to address the problem. As always, the KLC Department of Municipal Law and Training is here to assist.

Please contact Morgain M. Patterson, Director of Municipal Law and Training with any questions at 859.977.4212.