7Investigates: Car Registration Evasion

SALISBURY, MASS. (WHDH) - When you move to Massachusetts, you have 30 days to register your car in the state. But many drivers don’t, in order to try to avoid paying excise tax. That leads to cars with out-of-state license plates parking on neighborhood streets for weeks, or even months.

7Investigates found one town is cracking down on the pricey problem.

“If you look around, there’s a lot of Connecticut plates, a lot of New York plates,” said Samantha Gormley, a Boston resident.

“It’s not fair,” said Ziesha Gray, another Boston resident.

And it’s a problem that’s likely costing Massachusetts taxpayers millions.

“If they’re not paying the taxes on the vehicles, then the Commonwealth is losing out on that money,” said Chief Tom Fowler with the Salisbury Police Department.

7Investigates found that it’s a constant complaint: Angry drivers in Boston, sending officials pictures of cars with out-of-state plates taking up precious parking spots. The comments submitted with those pictures include, “They obviously live here and are avoiding paying excise tax,” and, “Shouldn’t the car be registered in Massachusetts by now?”

Dozens of complaints have been sent to the state as well. One complaint documents that one driver “told neighbors it’s cheaper than registering in Massachusetts.” According to another complaint, another car “owner is trying to beat the system.”

“If they’re not paying taxes in Massachusetts and taking my spot, it’s an issue,” said Charles Farias, another Boston resident.

7Investigates found many drivers are likely getting away with car registration evasion.

State data shows police only wrote about 400 tickets for failing to register a vehicle properly in 2017 in all of Massachusetts.

Salisbury police wrote the most of any department in the state. Cars there are often registered just over the border in New Hampshire, where fees are significantly cheaper. So more out-of-state plates mean less excise tax revenue for Salisbury.

“It’s almost like a quality-of-life crime,” Fowler said.

Fowler said residents demanded a crackdown. So he drew up a program to target registration evasion. Now, some Salisbury officers spend their overnight wintertime shifts tracking license plates. If they log the same car on 30 different days, they hit the driver with a ticket, which comes with a $500 fine.

Salisbury police wrote 82 improper registration tickets in 2017.

“It’s not the sexiest police work, but I think my officers and supervisors realize it’s a priority for the citizens here in Salisbury,” Fowler said.

Massachusetts residents can submit complaints to the state Registry of Motor Vehicles if they suspect someone has not registered their car properly. It’s called the I-Pay-Tax program, and 81 complaints were filed with that program just last year.

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