Another reminder that revenue-based enforcement leads to corruption.
A Florida couple is prison-bound after stealing thousands of cars and demanding ransom payments. Not for extortion or theft, which they would deserve. For “aggravated white-collar crime,” which is a fancy way of saying they failed to pay the City of Miami to look the other way.
Most states have predatory towing. Florida has predatory booting too. If your car is accused of illegal parking on private property, a circling vulture swoops down and puts a boot on it. You have to pay a fine to a for-profit company to get your car back.
People can pretend that the goal of towing is to clear the parking lot for its intended use. But “you’re taking up my space so I’m going to stop you from driving away from my space” — there isn’t even a trace of legitimacy there. It’s pure theft.
Of course they aren’t being charged with theft from their thousands of victims. Nobody cares. What they are charged with is failing to pay the $25 car theft fee to the city of Miami.
You think the city would let somebody else into its racket for free? The vultures have to give the sharks a piece of the action. In Miami $25 of an $89 fine goes to the city. Taking $89 is theft. Taking $64 for yourself and $25 for the city is not.
I’ve written before about the need to make people pay for hurting others. When you can make money off of others’ pain, you’re liable to engage in antisocial behavior. Some cities understand that. In Miami Beach the maximum fine is so low they don’t have a boot problem. Parking lot owners are still allowed to teach drivers a lesson by clamping their cars. But when money is on the line it seems they really don’t care all that much.
Want to end predatory towing and clamping? Stop the fee shifting. Illegal parking is a private matter between the owner and the parker, the same as any other trespass. You can sue somebody for trespass; it’s one of the oldest causes of action in common law. A woman successfully sued a golf course for dropping golf balls on her property. She didn’t get a windfall of $150 to tow each golf ball away. She got a court order to stop and possibly her actual de minimis costs.
If the parking lot is full, but only if, possibly the damages would include some of the cost to remove the car. I’m not sure even that ought to be allowed. There would be kickbacks — the tow company might put $300 on the invoice while handing $150 back under the table. But at least the business owner would be wary of paying for a tow when he wasn’t really being hurt and there was a risk of non-collection.
I used the word vulture a couple times. It’s not a great analogy. I like vultures. Vultures are useful. They’re a conspicuous part of the ecology’s waste management system.
Predatory tow companies are more like parasites than vultures. They can’t survive by own efforts. They survive by stealing from you. They should be hunted to extinction.
Where can we find an exterminator? England had angle-grinder man, a real-life superhero who cut clamps off of cars. A hundred like him might be enough to clean up Miami.
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