Spotted: Arlington Tax Enforcers on the Prowl

by ARLnow.com December 20, 2011 at 3:57 pm 11,487 128 Comments

Just like Santa Claus, Arlington’s tax enforcers know whether you’ve been naughty or nice. But instead of giving you a lump of coal in your stocking, the tax enforcers are taking something: your license plates.

We spotted Arlington County’s Automated License Plate Recognition vehicle on the prowl (see photo, top) in an apartment parking lot today. The vehicle — the only one of its kind in the county fleet — automatically reads license plates and tells the tax enforcement employee inside which vehicles belong to owners with overdue parking fines, vehicle property taxes or other public debts.

When they find a vehicle whose owner owes a considerable amount of taxes and/or fines, the enforcers will confirm the vehicle type and then either use an electric screwdriver to take the vehicle’s license plates (for Virginia plates) or place a boot on the vehicle’s wheel (for out-of-state plates). The owner then has to pay up to get the plates back or the boot taken off.

(Sometimes owners who owe less than $200 are let off the hook with a simple warning note.)

The county bought the Automated License Plate Recognition system for some $30,000 back in 2004. Arlington was the first locality in the U.S. using such technology for tax purposes, according to the county Treasurer’s Office. Since it was first rolled out, we’re told the license plate readers have helped collect some $1.4 million.

“It has paid its way many times since then,” Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary told ARLnow.com. O’Leary said the average debt collected is between $600 and $700.

The county typically does not tow vehicles, to relieve owners of the “extra hardship” of having to retrieve the vehicle and pay the towing fee, according to O’Leary.

  • James

    Wonder if they should drive this thing through clarendon apartment garages. Whole lot of out of state luxury cars parked in there who haven’t paid a dime of personal property tax.

    • Autoexec.bat

      I’m not sure that they can if the vehicle is parked on private property. They have to catch you on a public roadway I think.

      • Autoexec.bat

        I should have added: Or in a public parking lot without controlled access, presumably like the one in the picture.

        • Eeeeeeeek

          When I lived in Arlington Courthouse Place (Archstone property) I went down one morning to our controlled access garage to find my plates had been removed. They left a giant bright orange sticker telling me I had to pay up. Had to head to the treasurer’s office to pay the $200 or so in whatever tickets/ fees I owed in order to get them back.

          • autoexecbat

            Ouch, I guess that settles that. They can go wherever they want!

          • Zoning Victim

            No, they can’t; the property owner / management company must have let them in.

      • Clizzledizzle

        Can someone invite them in? I would gladly.

      • Courthouse Res

        No, I know someone who wasn’t registered in the county. Her car was registered in her parents county, but parked in Arlington apartment garage and she got a letter saying it had to be registered in Arlington county. If the car is not registered in Arlington County they will find it. It might take them awhile, but eventually. I am curious though b/c there are a few cars in my garage with out-of-state license plates and such so wondering how long they will get away with it.

        • KalashniKEV

          If they spot you 3x in 90 days I believe you get the tax letter. It happened to my friend with Texas plates.

          • Kirk

            What if you live in another state (like MD), but spend every weekend here visiting a friend?

          • jslanger

            You probably just have to prove to them where you’re living….but if you have an address in Arlington, you’re stuck…

          • Ben

            If it’s anything like DC, where I got a ticket for failure to acquire plates (even though I live in Clarendon) – I had to go to the DMV and show proof of my current lease, current utility bill, my license, and registration.

            And I have to do it now every year.

          • pdksobe

            Nah, I have out of state plates, am in Arlington for personal/work reasons often, and received a letter from the county stating reasons I would need to license plates in VA. If you receive a letter, simply send it back stating you do not meet the requirements to license your car in VA…

        • novasteve

          What about students? You can live in an place and not be a resident if you are a student. And thus you wouldn’t be required to re-title the car or pay the tax, right?

          • OX4

            “When they find a vehicle whose owner owes a considerable amount of taxes and/or fines…”

          • CW

            Hmm, good catch in the language, This appears to do nothing about the dozens of out-of-state cars whose owners are committing tax evasion. Those are the ones – $50k for an Audi but won’t pay their taxes – which really get me worked up.

          • JamesE

            It enrages me having paid nearly $5k in 3 years in car tax and I constantly see out of plate luxury cars. People keep mentioning they might be military, I am sure the chunky 20 something blonde behind the wheel is military and also afforded it on a military salary.

          • Southeast Jerome

            $5K in 3years on car tax. We get it. You have a nice car.

          • JamesE

            Jeeeerome pay your car tax

          • JamesE

            I will also add it is amazing how my car is not depreciating in value, I am sure this will be 100% reflected when I sell it.

          • CW

            Gotta buy a car worth EXACTLY 20k…

          • Bluemont Dweller

            Actually, registering your car and getting a tax sticker are two different activities.

          • Ali

            When I was still a student and had my car titled/licensed out of state, I still had to pay the car tax. They came into my building’s garage and sent me warning letters until I paid up.

          • Burger

            Then you should stick up for yourself more and learn the difference between residency and domicile.

            If you no intention of being domiciled in the state of Virginia then VA has no ability to tax your car as property regardless if you area student, military or Joe schmoe on the street. You can typically demonstrate this by showing an out of state license.

            See Rahm Emanuel as perfect example of residence v. domicile.

          • R. Griffon

            IIRC students and active duty military are exempted.

          • biabiaaa

            If your car is registered in another county but parked in Arlington County, you can submit proof of registeration, pay for a county decal and not pay Arlington property tax on the vehicle.

      • porkchop_milkshake

        If the lot owner gives them access they can. And they can certainly encourage lot owners to give them access.

      • b0rk

        Unfortunately, this is incorrect. Many times they will ask a manager to gain access and then do the ticketing. I know two people that had this happen to them. Both out of town plates, not registered in Arl. and parked in private garages in Crystal City.

    • novasteve

      When I movmed into my building the management told me that the county inspects the cars in the garage 2x a year. I had never noticed if they actually did though.

      • Ivy

        If the county inspects the cars in the garage twice per year, than the apartment complex is allowing it. They can’t just go in and search private property without permission from the owner

        • CW

          I wonder what they would need to constitute probably cause? Then they could get a warrant. Tax evasion, last time I check was a crime, and a serious one too.

        • Lou

          This is a known issue, and I believe many of the buildings that were built using the special site plan process have to allow access to the revenue agents per their site plan approval.

          • cj

            That is correct. It became a standard site plan condition for residential buildings some years ago.

  • CourthouseChris

    They take your plates? I’ve never heard of that before. If you are parked on street, can you then be ticketed for not having plates/registration stickers? Can’t unplated cars be towed?

  • Frivolous

    Thank you Patriot Act dollars

    • OX4

      C’mon, it’s for catchin’ terrists!

    • Nooner

      This LPR was not paid for with Urban Area funds.

      The county bought the Automated License Plate Recognition for some $30,000 back in 2004.

      • Nana

        The LPRs are amazing. Police just ride down the road and the thing scans, reports, and inquires about every plate it can read. Scary.

  • Arthur Itus

    Had no idea Arlington residents were such tax scofflaws.

    But I think there should be a clear defined limit before they take your plates. There should not be any discretion involved by the operator or anyone else in deciding when to take the plates or when to ignore the infraction. Too much opportunity for cronyism and nepotism etc.

  • novasteve

    Solution: Get locking screws for your plates like they have locking nuts for wheels..

    • Joe Hoya

      Yeah, then they get pissed and boot you instead

    • South Arlington

      Solution: Pay the taxes that you owe.

      • +1

        However, say one chose to “protect their vehicle’s license plates from the elements” by placing non-transluscent magnets on the plates when parked on private property…I can’t imagine it’s legal for anyone to remove such magnets for any reason, including scanning/reading.

        • Daniel

          Invariably that person is going to forget sometime to remove said magnet and get the joy of a traffic stop….

  • Clizzledizzle

    Check out the underground parking garage of “the Clarendon” at 1200 North Herndon Street. up to 1/3 of the cars are registered out of state, most of them beamers. It’s outrageous.

    • Tre

      rabble rabble rabble

    • b0rk

      Thanks for the 3 series convertible graduation present, daddy!

  • The Angler

    Taking license plates is theft. Arlington doesn’t own the plates. The DMV does.

    • KalashniKEV

      Perhaps this is a loophole!

      COOCH! Please save us from these Tax-o-crats!

    • Fantastic point. I’d be really pissed to come out and see my plates gone. I’d call the cops and report the theft.

      • novasteve

        They leave a big orange thing on your windshield though..

        Also, do they leave the screws or take them with them? If they take them the screws belong to you and that’s larceny. Very petty larcency, but theft is theft even if they can argue they somehow have property rights in the plates.

  • jim

    Yes, because Zimmerman, Tejada and those other morons on the County Board need your $$$$ to spend frivilously…………..

    • R. Griffon

      Assuming you think filling potholes, maintaining parks and providing public services, and continuing to fund some of the best public schools in all of America are all frivolous.

      • Long Duck Dong

        No smoking signs in parks are a bit frivolous. The Artisphere is a bit frivolous.

        • Southeast Jerome

          You know what else is frivolous? Buying super expensive real estate that many Arlingtonians cannot afford to live near and putting a homeless shelter there.

        • drax

          That’s all you got?

        • agreed, frivolous. as is the trolley.

      • Zoning Victim

        We do not have “some of the best public schools in all of America;” just some of the most expensive above average schools in all of America.

        • Arlington HS Grad


          #28 HB
          #63 W-L
          #83 Yorktown


          #47 HB
          #81 Yorktown
          #86 W-L

          Last time I checked, 3 high schools in the top 100 is pretty good, do some research next time.

          • Josh S

            This, of course, assumes that Newsweek and the Post are using metrics that have much meaning. I would personally argue that they don’t.

            However, I would also argue that it is very difficult to even agree on what “best” means when discussing high schools. So it’s perhaps a fool’s errand to begin with.

          • Zoning Victim

            I did my research and have posted it on here in the past. Our schools are above average and that’s all they are (other than expensive).

            Last time I checked, America sucks in education by comparison to the rest of the industrialized world. I’m not sure I find being in the top 100 for American high schools (only four out of 12 years of public education) any kind of accomplishment given what we spend per student.

          • dk

            Do you have children in APS or are you a teacher in the system? Just wondering if you’ve acquired your knowledge through direct contact.

          • Zoning Victim

            No, I’m not a teacher and do not have any children in APS. I get my information from the various factions that rate schools and the performance of students from various countries. Test scores may not tell the whole tale, but they also don’t lie.

            I did actually attend school in AC when I was in 4th grade and my sister is a product of APS, but that was obviously long ago and much has changed since then; not the least of which is that the US’ students have continued to backslide against the students of other industrialized nations despite the fact that the US spends more per student than any other country.

  • Lou

    I thought I have seen those readers on some Arlington police cruisers too.

    • Just the Facts

      The readers on ACPD cars look for stolen and wanted tags & vehicles, not tax evaders.

    • Nana

      The LPR system can link to whatever tax, criminal, terrorist, and/or political opponent tracking system you’d like. There’s also nothing to prevent the authoritayyy’s from just storing your tracking data for future use. You know, just in case.

  • TGEoA

    They should let advanced towing install some readers and let them tow the scofflaws and keep the hook fee and get rid of the county vehicle all together.

    • Southeast Jerome

      That would make the government smaller though because they could eliminate this person driving around in a special car taking license plates. We cant let the government get smaller, we need a massive government to protect us from ourselves.

    • Nana

      Until the tow truck driver starts making extra money to overlook certain vehicles.

  • Failed Again

    Hear ter, hear tee! All taxes will be collected to support the failed Artisphere! Hurry and pay!

    • novasteve

      They also need it to build that homeless shelter and to make up for the lost tax revenues form the reduction in real estate value from the neighboring properties.

      • Ben

        *facepalm* There is a homeless shelter at 9th RD N and N Highland in Clarendon and homes in that neighborhood still go for 1M+

        • Also

          and another at 7th and Irving. Lyon Park is stiff with them.

  • Carmen

    I sold my car in 2005. So far I haven’t bought another one. The Arlington Tax Assessment office (or something close to that) Sends me a letter every year making me confirm that I do not have a car. They are serious about that tax money.

    • Ha ha. They want you to go carless, but then they hassle you when you do!

    • dk

      When we moved from the Hill to Arlington a few years ago, we registered one car immediately but wanted to wait as long as possible to register my (’05 Hyundai Accent, worth very little) car because I had an unexpired Capitol Hill resident sticker that allowed me free parking on streets within walking distance of my office. (Sue me.) Within a few months, we got a welcome letter from the County noting that we had one car registered to our address and reminding us that ALL cars had to be registered.

  • ArlingonWay

    Fascist. This ought to be the picture on the decal. O’Leary would have fit in very well in the Soviet Union. A bureaucratic hack if there ever was one. They still can’t figure out a way to combine multiple personal property tax bills in one household. I still get three separate bills mailed to my house every year.

    • South Arlington

      Hey slugger, Fascism and Communism are kind of like polar opposites.

      At least get your hyperbole correct.

      • ArlingonWay

        Thanks It was in fact hyperbole, intended to reference the type of over the top government police tactics common to both. But I’m glad that political science degree is paying off so handsomely for you in the real world. BTW, when are they bringing the McRib back?

        • Josh S

          Great, it was hyperbole. But have you ever noticed how jokes aren’t funny if they don’t make any sense? It’s kind of like the same thing here. Even given the low standards of the internet, it helps if your posts are internally consistent, even when they are just random complaints.

          • ArlingtonWay

            Gosh Josh. I hadn’t noticed that. I’ll try harder in the future. Really helpful. You don’t seem like a typical Arlington douche at all. Slugger.

          • Josh S


        • South Arlington

          Chief, it doesn’t take a poli sci degree to know that Fascism and Communism are polar opposites – try 8th grade civics class. If you’re going to make a hyperbolic joke that doesn’t make sense, at least make it funny – otherwise take a lap and jump off the Key Bridge.

          • ArlingtonWay

            “Chief?” Thanks brah. Awesome suicide joke, by the way. Particularly funny in light of recent events.

        • Grognak

          You would have been better off referencing Mussolini’s Italian regime, which exercised fascist control over the population while acquiring the majority of the country’s industry under state control. Definite overlap of Communist and Fascist ideologies. Or Castro’s Cuba to a lesser extent immediately after seizing power.

          But you tweaked the surface-scratchers of history around here who can’t see shades of grey. Sorry about that.

          • Maria

            Communism =/= state control of industry. That is socialism.

          • Grognak

            In the modern lexicon and the context of these examples, they may as well be the same thing. Lenin adopted the “Communist Party” moniker while pushing his version of Marxism. The goal being “state” control of industry and distribution, but his “state” was a classless harmony of the workers, so you have communistic ownership of resources, by the communal state run by the workers.

    • Just the Facts

      ArlingonWay says: inability to combine multiple personal property tax bills in one household = over the top government police tactics.

      I love the commenters on this board….

    • Nana

      Even Solzhenitsyn observed that the nominally Socialist/Communist USSR was run by tyrannical dictators who behaved more like fascists. Kinda like the PRC, except that China puts a seductive capitalist face on their brand.

      I’m OK with the mixed metaphors, except that O’Leary works well with the Council, so I might throw in a little ‘junta’ for good measure.

      • Grognak

        Thank you. Some enlightened thinking to help offset the pedants around here.

  • Arlwhenver

    I can just imagine if the County was confiscating tags/booting using this procedure all those years that it erroneously billed me for the property tax on the vehicle that went to my ex-wife (who did not live in Arlington). A horrible problem with these Gestapo tactics is that they root people out who are falsely picked up in the dragnet. But heh, the police-state victims usually aren’t Arlington residents, so who cares.

    • R. Griffon

      Right. It’s just like when the SS wrote all those parking tickets to the Jews in Poland. Oh the humanity.

      • JamesE

        Owning a luxury car (probably German) in Arlington is basically exactly like being a Jew in 1940s Europe.

      • Arlwhenver

        Goes to show you don’t understand the difference between the military (SS) and the police (GESTAPO)., which is chilling in and of itself. Personally, I have been targeted by Arlington County for not playing along with its collectivists games — you have no clue how far and how many times Arlington County has gone over the top.

        • Josh S

          And you do?

          The ultimate insider are you?

          Please start your own blog where you can regale and enlighten us with your stories. I’m looking forward to it.

    • AllenB

      Gestapo tactics??? You really know nothing about that which you speak.

      • Arlwhenver

        See below how Arlington County uses intimidation to force property owners to subborn their rights and yield access to private property. The hallmark of the Gestapo was spying on private civilians without probable cause to believe they had committed a crime.

  • Curious

    What if your car is parked in a SFH garage? Could you completely get away with it in that case, presuming you didn’t otherwise park in Arlington ever?

    • Arthur Itus

      Sure, in the same fashion you can completely remodel your basement without getting a building permit or inspections, or hop on 66 at 3:00 AM and drive 135 mph. As long as you don’t get caught, you’re fine.

      • Josh S

        Those comments have the air of personal experience…..

        • Nana

          I’m envious if he’s driven that fast. I can’t get above 35mph on Kirkwood without getting a ticket.

          • Arthur Itus

            Some details may have been changed to protect the guilty.

            Here’s some late night Arlington fun from the old days. Go up to Glebe and 26th Street late at night, and start down 26th past Marymount. Throw your car in neutral. Your goal is to get to Military Road without putting the car back in gear. Enjoy!

  • SJ

    The story in my condo building goes that Arlington County approached our building management asking for permission to inspect the vehicles in the garage to see if they had properly plated their cars and paid their taxes. The affirmed that they legally could not enter the garage without the building’s permission, but then added that if the building didn’t cooperate, they would setup a checkpoint on the public road just outside the garage and inspect every vehicle that exits. The building relented.

    • Zoning Victim

      I wouldn’t have let them in. What a stupid bluff, “I’ll spend thousands to collect hundreds if you don’t let me in.” Good, go ahead and setup your checkpoint. With the way the county bureaucracy treats people, it’s no wonder they try to avoid paying their taxes. I got so sick of dealing with them, I created my new business outside of Arlington just so I wouldn’t have to pay them taxes on all of my businesses’ tangible assets or pay them the business license fee. If I had a different address at which to register my vehicles so I could avoid paying them the personal property tax on those, I’d do that, too. Save your fingers and time; I’m not inconveniencing myself by moving, but I am still looking for my pound of flesh. Before I make any moves that have tax implications these days, the first thing I try to figure out is how I can legally do it without having to pay Arlington County any more taxes.

      • novasteve

        The funny thing is what would Arlington do if everyone followed their car free diet? Where would they come up with the funds? I bet they would demand entrance into people’s homes to insepect your jewlery so they could tax it..

        • npgmbr

          Why so many of you acting as if Arlington County is the only entity collecting taxes from you?

          Does anyone really believe that the State is not hooked into this system?

        • There would just be a hefty transit tax.

  • nota gain

    There is a light colored car with DC plates in a garage in Arlington at a house across from the church. Backyard is nicely fenced. If a rentee, shouldn’t the plates be VA with Arl stickers? Have seen this car there for a long time. Buckingham has many out of state plates in the parking ares
    Arlington and the US govt. need to go after those who do not pay taxes yet enjoy the amenities of the area and country. Get’em all.

    • CW


      It’s kinda funny that a lot of the people who whine about property (house) tax rates on their $1M+ SFHs are the same ones who think that “avoiding” the car tax is some sort of noble form of civil disobedience. I thought the term was actually “evading”, and it was criminal disobedience! Also, news flash, it only takes about 4 luxury cars worth of personal property tax to equal the amount of property tax owed on a house (about $4300 according to an article earlier this year). So MAYBE if the county would round up all these CRIMINALS and asses not just the taxes but punitive fines as well, they could cut taxes elsewhere, like on the poor millionaire homeowners who cry their hearts out on this board?

      • CW

        *assess, but what I wrote is accurate in referring to these individuals as well.

      • JamesE

        I think just based on my condo’s garage the county is losing $50k a year*

        *I completely just guessed that number but it is probably accurate.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    So how does this work? Surely they don’t just do one pass recording plate numbers and give everyone without a sticker a ticket. Or else they would pick up every tourist and visitor. Do they?
    1) Cross check plates against DMV license addresses?
    2) Do multiple passes and after some threshold claim you are garaging in AC?
    3) Only catch folks that have un-paid bills – but actually catching someone avoiding the tax is left to other means?

    • CW

      My understanding from the language is that it is only #3, thus rendering it effectively useless against the real crooks.

      • Josh S

        I think that’s like noting that a screwdriver is useless for driving nails.

        Different tools, different purposes.

        • CW

          So what’s the automated tool for seamlessly ringing up out-of-state car owners who are living here and committing tax evasion?

          • JamesE

            Citizens arrest for tax evasion, we can drive around and box them in.

  • South Awwwlington

    There are easily 30-40 cars parked on S Arlington Mill and Dinwiddie that don’t display PPT stickers AND take up valuable parking spaces from those that do pay their taxes.

    I wonder how many of these folks that are driving their ’85 Granadas and the like are sucking up the County Public Resources and don’t pay a dime in…

    Round them all up. Rich or poor, do your own part and if you don’t like it, vote the bums out! It’s quite odd when one end of the spectrum finds allies in the other (for different reasons of course.)

  • Plunkitt of Clarendon Blvd

    Anyone else notice that they used the old Arlington County logo rather than the “$30,000 swoosh” logo….interesting.

  • 22204

    There is a real issue here that is quite disturbing that the county and the state don’t have the right authorities (can’t go into garages without permission), processes (don’t have automated methods to ensure taxes are collected right in the first place), and enforcement capabilities (can’t figure out if an out of state tag is actually a county resident or not).

    You would think in this day and age that the state and county would have better collaboration and enforcement to ensure residents register their cars and taxes are collected correctly.

    Taxes for my house are collected quite efficiently and I think it would be difficult for someone to evade paying taxes on their home. Why isn’t it the same with cars? Why aren’t we putting liens on cars if taxes aren’t paid, like we can with a home?

    • Suburban Not Urban

      Because we are actually asking the non-property owners to do their parts… and according to the county and progressives it’s good that we get more renters and less property owners.

  • Abe Froman

    I find it a little galling that people here are decrying this in any way, shape or form. Especially honest Arlington residents who would only benefit from closer tax enforcement.

  • jim

    I find it a little galling that people here are sanguine with over the top storm trooper tactics to support a County that waste money hand over fist.

  • jim

    The only ones who are allowed to avoid registering their cars are illegal aliens. Such individuals have privileged status in Arlington County and are exempt from enforcement efforts.


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