If you have ever had your car towed for whatever reason, getting it back is a real hassle. Unfortunately, having your car towed because you parked illegally, had an accident or break down usually means you are having a pretty bad day. Predatory towing makes the experience even worse.
According to the Parking Enforcer Blog, predatory towing is when a tow truck removes vehicles without a contract or direct dispatch from the property owner. Predatory towing however is not when tow truck drivers who work under a contract to monitor an area, remove illegally parked vehicles legally. When a street or parking lot area is marked Tow Away Zone or No Parking 24 Hours, the property owner has every right to tow any vehicle that has illegally parked there. Parking for a just a few minutes in a tow away zone can get you towed and putting a sign on your windshield stating that “Be Back Soon—do not tow” will not help you in any scenario.
An infamous case of predatory towing took place at a Florida hotel in June 2014. Over five days, a tow truck driver removed over 100 illegally parked vehicles from an area that was designated a tow away zone. The driver was not contracted nor authorized to remove vehicles and due to his predatory practice, faced charges for grand theft auto for each vehicle he towed.
Another example of predatory towing occurs after your vehicle has been in an accident. A tow truck driver swoops in and takes your car away even before law enforcement arrives. Predator tow truck drivers are also called gypsy towers or snatch-and-grabbers who troll for illegally parked vehicles wherever they may be parked.
In Illinois, the Governor is currently sitting on SB2261, The Statewide Relocation Towing Licensure Commission Bill that already passed the Illinois Statehouse. If Governor Rauner signs the bill, Illinois would then have a mechanism to curb predatory towing and better oversight of towing companies in general.
The Chicago City Council is taking towing matters into its own hands. In June, the council approved a Towing Bill of Rights. The proposed ordinance also called on tow trucks to have onboard cameras to provide video evidence justifying tows. Towing companies also must distribute a list of lots they patrol to the Police Department each year.
Chicago’s Towing Bill of Rights has 10 items just like the original Bill of Rights in the US Constitution.
- The tow company must have written permission to patrol a lot and remove cars from the lot.
- Signs must be clearly posted.
- Rates for towing & storage must be printed and openly available to those towed.
- A car cannot be removed and must be released if the owner arrives with the keys before his or her car leaves the lot.
- The tow company must inform the Police Department of the towed car within 30 minutes.
- Tow fees can be paid with cash, certified check, or designated credit and debit cards.
- Car owners can reclaim their belongings from a towed car even if not paying to have the car released.
- A photo of the car and its position must be taken before it is towed.
- A copy of the Towing Bill of Rights must be given to those towed.
- Complaints can be filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission at icc.illinois.gov.
Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) stated at a hearing in March that over 600 police man hours have been spent on handling complaints of just one notorious towing company, Lincoln Towing. Pewar added, “It’s not just about the people being towed. It’s about the amount of man hours our Police Department spends on complaints related to the towing companies. It’s about the resources we spend trying to enforce what’s on the books”.
Currently, California, New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia have Anti-Predatory Towing Laws in place to protect motorists.
The NMA believes that all state governments should have on their books laws to combat predatory towing. Local governments should also adopt their own Towing Bill of Rights so that everyone (law enforcement, towing companies, tow truck drivers and motorists) are on the same page when it comes to the act of towing a vehicle.