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.)