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I work on a University campus. Adjacent to my building is a bicycle rack, to which several bikes have been locked since the start of the academic year (end of August). It's clear that these bikes have been abandoned; they have not been moved in four months, and some of them have been scavenged for parts (missing tires, seats, etc.). Some of them, surprisingly, still have good, usable parts, including quick-release seats and tires that, inexplicably, have not been taken.

In mid-November, the University public safety department put tags on all of these bikes reading:

This bike appears to be abandoned and per Regents ordinance will be impounded. If this bike is not abandoned it must be removed within 15 days.

It is now late December; more than a month has passed since the bikes were tagged, but as of today they have still not yet been removed, either by their owners or by the authorities (although I expect the latter will do so soon).

From a halachic point of view, are these bikes hefker? At this point it seems undeniable to me that the owners have given up any hope of reclaiming their property. Is it permissible to take possession of them, or of any usable parts that remain? Or have they now, by virtue of the tagging, become the property of the local authorities?

Just to be clear: I have no intention of actually taking the bikes, or any of their parts. Quite apart from the questions of whether it is legal (under civil law) or permissible (under Halacha), I do not wish to be seen to be stealing bicycles parked on public property; I think for a kippah-wearing Jew to do so would raise serious marit ayin issues. I am interested in the theoretical status of the bicycles: at what point do / did they become hefker, does the city’s tagging of the bikes alter their status, etc.?

(For those who are curious, I have posted a parallel question about the status of these bicycles under civil law on a different SE site.)

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  • Lichorah it is permissible to take the bikes mi'din shatfah nahar. I.e. it is permissible to take them regardless of whether or not the owner was meyayesh.
    – pcoz
    Dec 22, 2021 at 3:13
  • Yeshivas sometimes do the same or similar things. There is a responsa from Rav Moshe Feinstein explaining why halacha allows it. Ask your LOR about this specific case
    – Schmerel
    Dec 22, 2021 at 20:18
  • @pcoz What nonsense! Shatfah Nahar is a case of a natural disaster. What disaster do you see here?
    – Al Berko
    Dec 23, 2021 at 21:45
  • Has Vehalilah! At best those bikes are Avedah, unless it's customary to throw away bikes. To be considered Hefker there's got to be a known custom (Hazakah, e.g. left by trash, municipal warning, the bike is unusable. etc). IIRC, we don't follow the majority in monetary matters, so one can't even rely on the fact that the majority of students willingly give up say, after a year. On the other hand, there's a threat of stealing Deoraytah, because the locks hint at their owners' intention to exercise their ownership.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 23, 2021 at 21:52
  • @AlBerko The question is not if it's natural or not natural, the question is if inevitably the person will forfeit their ownership.
    – pcoz
    Dec 23, 2021 at 21:54

1 Answer 1

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From your description it would seem that there is some university bylaw that states that leaving a bicycle on the rack for an extended period constitutes abandonment. Anyone who brings a bicycle on campus accepts the rules. The owner thus abandons the bike.

In this case, it seems like the university has not claimed the bike but intends to do so. If they change their language a bit, they could aquire the bike at the end of the 15 days by affixing the tag.

Once the groundskeeper has cut the bolt off and begins the acquisition process, you can't come running up and ask him for the bike, for free or for money. At this point, it belongs to the university.

The pious thing to do would be to wait until the 15 days ends, take the bike, but post a flyer explaining that you have done so and allow the owner 3 chagim to claim it from you.

Source: I asked the question when I acquired a bicycle in a similar situation.

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  • IMHO, this ruling is wrong, as I commented earlier. There's no point in time when the bike is Hefker - once the warning is timed out nothing changes - until the Uni acquires the bike it belongs to its owner.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 26, 2021 at 6:09
  • The catch here is that you might wrongfully think that by that working the Uni declares the bike Hefker for everyone, but it isn't, it's between the Uni and the owner. Like leaving clothes in a Mikve.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 26, 2021 at 6:10
  • There is a known chazaka that people throw away bikes. After students graduate they often ditch all of their college furniture and even bicycles because it's not worth the expense of transporting them off campus. Check out Facebook marketplace. Used low end bikes can be aquired for under $100. Dec 26, 2021 at 13:55
  • You probably misuse the term Chazaka. If you see a bike on campus - how come is it a chazaka that it's a Hafker? Certainly no. Even if most students ditch their bikes after graduating, for any particular bike, it's more probable that it's usable, than forgotten. I remind you that we don't follow the majority in Mamonos. Unlike by the trash bins, for example, where the Gemmora concludes that the intention is to throw away.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 26, 2021 at 18:36

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