Monday, June 30, 2008

Citizens Rise Up Against Abusive And Predatory Towing: Lessons Learned From "The Battle Of Orlando" photo

The City of Orlando, Florida was named after a Orlando Reeves, a soldier killed while attempting to fire a warning shot to alert troops of an impending Indian attack. One source says the story is without basis, but cities apparently need such legends; which inspire civic-mindedness and self-sacrifice.

In Orlando, an example of such civic-mindedness can be found in people like Orlando Weekly reporter Lindy T. Shepherd, who fought abusive towing and--in a manner similar to Orlando Reeves--sought to alert others of the danger...

Skirmishes by citizens with abusive towing in various locales tend to produce useful information about tactics that work, developed "on the fly" by these citizens fighting their small battles. In reading Shepherd's two articles about her situation, "By hook, crook or the book" and "I fought the towing company, and I won" some useful tactics become apparent.

Here, in a nutshell, is the "tactical information" that can be gleaned from the two articles.

* The article mentions "radio station personalities Doc & Johnny from WXXL" who were "patrolling the perimeter to warn potential victims."

Great idea! Most local radio stations depend on the "two wacky guys in the morning" format. Abusive and predatory towing seems like a perfect "drive time" topic, and the antics of radio personalities seem perfectly suited to warning victims of abusive towing.

* Tow truck drivers who engage in predatory towing have to move quickly. Consequently, they don't always follow the rules about securing vehicles, which can give citizens an opening for making a complaint stick.

* Shepherd carefully researched the statutes--in fact, she checked the state, county AND city laws--and found a crafty-yet-reasonable interpretation of the statute which requires a 50 percent "drop fee" if the vehicle "has already been connected to the towing or removal apparatus." But the driver in this instance didn't completely secure Shepherd's vehicle.

Though there was talk of revising the particular Orlando ordiance at issue--to clear up precisely this gray area--the tactic of arguing about whether the vehicle was connected to the towing apparatus or not could work in other locales.

* Shepherd found the towing contract for the parking lot on file with the city, as required. She was apparently looking for an illegal monetary arrangement between the towing company and the business with the parking lot. Though she found no such arrangement, her tactic of ferreting out the contract made sense, and could produce a windfall of useful information in some other situation, in some other city.

* Shepherd publicized the process to file a complaint specific to towing issues in her city and county.

* Some tow trucks are equipped with video cameras. But that is a double-edged sword. In Shepherd's case, the video footage (which Shepherd never saw) apparently worked in her favor, showing the tow truck was not moving when she approached and pleaded for her vehicle.

* By making the record with her two articles in 2003, Shepherd helped establish a historical record of towing abuse, laying the groundwork for what appears to be a decisive, crushing defeat of Paul Gren and his towing company half a decade later at the hands of the Orlando City Commission.

Kiss Your Hard-Earned Money Goodbye In Downtown Orlando, Florida photo

Just how bad is the towing situation in downtown Orlando? While using "Orlando" as a search term on, I turned up this photo of a guy "kissing his money goodbye" because he was towed.

Here's what the caption of the photo says and, keep in mind, I am only the messenger.
After all of the excitement was over we headed back to the apartment to call it a night. That's when we discovered that Adam's car had been towed because he accidentally parked in front of the mini police station in our building. Here we see him kissing his $80 goodbye before heading out to get his car back.

I'm told that kissing that money isn't the only thing he did to it before he handed it to the towing people.

What's amazing is the "photo story" of what happened right before the tow, which you can follow if you click on this link and go to the beginning of the photo sequence on

It turns out after attending something called the "Indie Film Jam," Adam and his friends were on the way home when they witnessed an assault, which involved a guy's head hitting a sidewalk of downtown Orlando, Florida "like a melon." They called the police, gave witness statements, then received an impromptu tour of the police station from grateful members of OPD.

When they came outside, it turned out Adam's vehicle had been towed. Say goodbye to 80 bucks for being good citizens.

(Do not click "Read More")


(Photo by Hilda M. Perez, Orlando Sentinel / June 23, 2008)
(Fair comment and criticism)

Paul Gren of TowTruck Company of Orlando is, beyond a doubt, a notorious man and a bad actor in the towing game. However... bad as Gren is, and as easy as it is to loathe and criticize somebody like Gren, this guy did not spring up in a vacuum. Orlando has big parking issues in its downtown area, such big issues one local who has lived in the area 20 years said downtown Orlando was "a source of shame" and he refuses to bring visitors there.

(Just look at him! Putting that expression on his face like, "I'm just a businessman. Why are they making me a bad guy?" And the whole while, he's been raking citizens over the coals and breaking rules left and right. This great photo captures it perfectly; the AFFECTED nature of Paul Gren's facial expression)

Lately, because of Paul Gren, not only is Orlando severely restricting the use of boots, but Orange County, Florida, is following Orlando's lead, according to this article.

Other bad acts by Paul Gren

Here's yet more information about how bad Paul Gren and TowTruck Company of Orlando actually is, according to yet MORE information I turned up.

* In 2004, TowTruck Compnay of Orlando impounded an SUV on a Saturday night with 21-year-old Chris Richard passed out in the back seat, causing Richard's mother to threaten a lawsuit. The receptionist at TowTruck Company was described as talking to Eyewitness News through "bulletproof glass."

It is easy to laugh at somebody like young Chris Richard, and characterize him as an irresponsible college kid, exactly like the blog where I located the story, "Right-Thinking From The Left Coast."

The problem is other, more vulnerable human beings could have been laying in the back seat of an SUV just as easily as a drunk college kid, such as a small, sleeping child or infant, a handicapped person, or a citizen unconscious due to a medical emergency. Vulnerable pets could be in the vehicle, as well, sitting in the shade with the window adequately cracked...but then the vehicle gets towed to a blazing hot Florida impound lot.

And no, not all dogs would bark madly, and not all human beings would be able to cry out and attract some attention. How much effort does it take for a tow truck driver to check a vehicle for occupants, as they are required to do? They're snatching cars so quick they don't want to waste a few seconds while making their getaway.

* TowTruck Company of Orlando was involved in another incident on June 10, 2003 which ACTUALLY DID involve towing a vehicle with a 7-year-old boy inside, according to Lindy T. Shepherd of the Orlando Weekly, who wrote about her own trials and tribulations in two amusing articles, "By hook, crook or the book" and "I fought the towing company, and I won."

Paul Gren's "Pimped Out" Ride

* What does Paul Gren do with all the money he shakes out of Orlando citizens? One thing he did was to buy an expensive custom motorcycle with a "graffiti" theme in the paint job, according to this article I found online. I will not critique the man's aesthetic tastes, but my tongue is going to hurt from biting it so hard.

Focus on the systemic issues, not Paul Gren

I fear the bigger issues of parking in downtown Orlando will be missed in a rush to give Paul Gren what he deserves. Reigning in Gren's abusive booting is an important piece of reform, but stopping Gren won't solve the parking crunch in downtown Orlando, and though a lot of complaints focus on Gren, many don't.

In a city which can brag of such a high tech attraction as Universal Studios theme park, you would think Orlando could adopt some technological solutions, including what has become the visionary centerpiece of my own reform efforts: a way to notify citizens of an impending tow.

In one of the Topix chat rooms, a poster mentioned how something called "courtesy cards" once existed, which allowed at least one tow truck company to make a phone call to auto owners who regularly used certain parking lots, to ask questions like, "Sir, did you forget your parking pass today?" or "Are you aware your permit expired half an hour ago? Can you run down and take care of that?"

The future of downtown Orlando

Imagine a more high tech form of the "courtesy card" which would allow vehicle information to be scanned, and vehicle owners to be notified of an impending tow. If Orlando could implement something like this, then maybe downtown Orlando could become what its most ardent supporters hope and dream, even with its ongoing parking crunch.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Public Relations Disaster In Orlando, Florida (Visit Downtown At Your Own Risk) photo

In Orlando, Florida, there is a political movement afoot in the City Commission, led by Commissioner Patty Sheehan, to reign in the most abusive auto booter in the city, which is apparently "TowTruck Company of Orlando" judging by this amazing article in the Orlando Sentinel....

The article has vivid examples of bad behavior by TowTruck Company of Orlando. Also, numerous outraged citizens have posted their own comments and stories in Topix forums related to the numerous articles about the abuses by TowTruck Company, the comments dragging in other instances of predatory practices in Orlando and adding to fuel to an already fiery issue.

In fact, there is so much information about predatory practices in downtown Orlando, and so many Orlando citizens saying it is better to avoid the downtown, the issue seems to be transforming into a public relations disaster for the city leaders in Orlando.

Consider the following, from the article.

* The city was forced to tighten its rules two years ago, because of the same company. The company's owner was arrested and fined for "routinely overcharging vehicle owners trying to retrieve their cars."

* A driver for Coca-Cola had his truck booted, with an attempted shake down of $400. Despite a police order, the company refused to remove the boot and caused a "parking lot showdown." The Coca-Cola driver's company rescued the vehicle with their own tow truck, hauling it away boot and all. The driver called the towing company a bunch of "mercenaries."

* One woman was able to remove her car wheel and the boot holding it in place, escaping with a spare tire. (Clever! Angle Grinder Man would be proud) According to the woman, TowTruck Company of Orlando got its revenge by snatching the car from her driveway and forcing her to pay $400.

* A senior citizen booted while legally parked, patronizing a local bank. A family booted while sitting inside a van. A person booted while going inside a law office to obtain a parking pass.

The following comments and examples come from Topix forum posts for this article and related articles, one of which pictures the infamous booter (boo, hiss) and the other of which is called, memorably, "Don't boot me, bro."

* Outraged citizens destroy as many as six boots a week as booting victims resort to cutting, melting and freezing the devices off. (The freezing method involves using freon, then smacking the boot hard with a hammer, FYI)

* Even other tow truck companies supported the proposed rules, including slashing booting fees to a mere $22, and distanced themselves from TowTruck Company of Orlando.

* Commissioner Tony Ortiz, a former cop, said when he was on the force he saw predatory practices, including watching vehicles park illegally without verbally warning the drivers, but rather waiting for the drivers to walk away.

A commenter on the Topix forum backed up the observations of Commissioner Ortiz, noting that a lot of signs in parking lots are confusing and don't conform to regulation. According to this citizen, "Downtown Fan," locals know where to park but it is people on vacation who get towed, including a family he met from Atlanta.

* "Palmetto Bugs" of Winter Park, Florida said he was towed from the Thornton Park area of downtown Orlando five years ago, and hasn't gone back since the incident.

* "SNL" of Sanford, Florida said "this sounds like a mobbed up company. There should be a RICO investigation to see where this money is flowing. It is only a matter of time before some serious violence enters the picture." Many other posters suggested various forms of violence which could be directed against booters.

* "Angry" of Miami, Florida said "If I caught one of these (expletive) towing my car from a legal parking spot there would be blood in the street."

* "Bruce" of Orlando, Florida says he has lived in Orlando for 20 years and the downtown parking situation has always been bad. He won't take visitors downtown "out of shame."

* "Marcus" of Orlando, Florida said the Orlando Sentinel should publish the names of the businesses which use TowTruck Company of Orlando so consumers could boycott the businesses until they stop encouraging predatory towing practices.

* John R. of Lake Mary, Florida brought up the problems at the parking lot owned by St. Luke's Cathedral, a situation I blogged about earlier. Apparently, St. Luke's actually contracts with this particular company, despite practices which can be described as "devilish."

* "Haze" of Orlando, Florida complained "For all that money Orlando spent on the downtown area, all they got was some tattoo parlors, bars that cater to teenagers and 20 somethings, and a few bad restaurants."

* "Darwin" of Lakeland, Florida said, "Years ago I had by car towed from a lot near Roxy's. That was my LAST time at Roxy's. I also punched the tow guy in the face. See, I cursed him when I picked up my car, and he was standing outside having a cig. Then he came up to my car window and I punshed him in the face and drove off. Good times."

* The College Park diner of Orlando was said to have tiny little signs facing backwards, and so vague it's impossible to know what parking spots the signs reference, causing many citizens to get towed.

* On June 4, a poster called "(Teed) Off Downtowner" of Orlando wrote as follows:

I have just returned from downtown. I went to OUC to pay my bill at 5:54 pm. (Time on receipt) From there I got into my car, drove a block over, parked my car. I parked legally in a metered space at 5:57 pm. I went to the meter, knowing the meters stop at 6pm.

The meter had 4 minutes left on it, which would take me to 6:01 or 6:02. So I went to my meeting. I returned to find my car had a city parking ticket with a time of 5:55 p.m.

I have checked my clock against other clocks and the world clocks online. My timepiece is correct. I was not even in that space at 5:55, I was leaving OUC. This sort of abuse needs to stop, City of Orlando. Twenty-two dollars (for a parking ticket) is not worth the amount of patronage you will lose. You are such idiots and will bankrupt this city.

* Some posters wondered why the city government allowed this situation to fester and get out of hand since the previous incidents with the same company two years before.

* "Okie Dokie" of Orlando, Florida suggested citizens should get their own boots and put them on their cars as decoys when frequenting downtown Orlando.

* "Mango" of Altamonte Springs, Florida said an Orlando company named Johnson Wrecker towed his car, and after "Mango" paid the bill, he asked where he could leave his car for a couple hours until he was ready to pick it up. Employees directed him to an empty lot next door, then later towed the car and extracted ANOTHER $125.

* In response to the issue being raised repeatedly of which businesses in Orlando hire the unscrupulous company in question, a poster stated some of the businesses were Appleton Creative and Orlando Lutheran Towers.

* "Orlando Beautiful" wrote, "Maybe Mayor Buddy can start having his Downtown Ambassadors give people rides home on their Segway when they get booted?

* When a poster criticized the Orlando Police Department for not taking quicker, more decisive action against the towing company in question, another poster argued as follows:

"When this booting stated, OPD began doing reports, getting sworn statements, and taking photos of the boots...OPD wanted to file grand theft charges for the bootings (but) the State Attorney's Office declined to accept them saying they would not pursue charges. So what could (OPD) do at that point? Nothing except to stand by to keep the peace while some folks cut the boots off with hacksaws."

* Many citizens made the complaint that parking was difficult to find in downtown Orlando, with or without booting to complicate the picture. One poster said, "They (the city government) want us to drive there and spend our hard-earned money on crappy venues and businesses so that we can be more like the REAL big cities of Chicago, New York and LA."

"Well guess what? If there is no place to park, why would I want to do that? [...] The problem is much more complex than just to say "park where you're supposed to" because "where you're supposed to" isn't always clearly marked and is often far overpriced. Better off to just stay out of downtown."

* One poster alleged towing companies were playing a game of "can't see the parking tag," explaining that "we've had employees who have their car towed, just to mysteriously find the tag that is hung from the mirror now lying on the floor of the car after it has been towed. These are tied to the mirror. How the heck does it fall off?"

All in all, the ongoing media coverage of the controversy and the associated discussion on chat threads is giving Orlando a serious black eye. And the issue hasn't even been resolved, yet.

"A Black Mark" On San Marcos, Texas photo

Unfortunately, an article about Charles Cantu's bad experience visiting San Marcos, Texas is all too typical of the results of abusive and predatory towing. The instinctive response of many citizens is "I'll never shop in (here insert city) again in my life..."

But at least in San Marcos the local paper took note, and examined whether the local towing policy is a wee bit (how to phrase it?) draconian and oppressive.

According to the article by News Editor Anita Miller of the San Marcos Daily Record, Charles is a former student of the local Texas state campus and "bragged" about all the great stuff in San Marcos, which is why he brought his family and some out-of-state visitors. Spots the shoppers hit included Paper Bear, Sean Patrick's, and Sundance Records in Nelson Center.

Cantu parked his truck momentarily to retrieve some members of the group who had been tubing on the river. It only took moments for his truck to be snatched by Saucedo's Wrecker Service, which demanded $103.30.

Cantu was incensed, calling the newspaper and the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce. The police could only sympathize because what happened was "legal," although SMPD Commander Bill Glasgow says he has heard "the same story for 25 years."

Nelson Center is apparently quite aggressive in its towing. In this case, Cantu was towed even though some members of his party were shopping inside Nelson Center at the time. No "courtesy inquiry" was made at Nelson Center by the tow truck driver.

Cantu did not say, directly, that he would never shop in San Marcos again for the rest of his life, but noted he is "infuriated" and compared the situation to something you would find in New York.

An online comment posted to the article by "bobcat78" noted "the same thing happened to my family, parked at the lot besides Jay's Bistro. Supposedly, we should have been able to see two small signs on the wall that (limited) parking to residents only. Hard to the dark. (The) attendant at the door saw us park and said nothing. To say the least the car was towed."

The commenter darkly noted, "I would assume the business probably gets a cut from Saucedo's Wrecker."

Unfortunately, this kind of smoldering fury is too often the response to people who experience predatory and abusive towing. They see it as an isolated local phenomenon, perhaps found commonly only in the most highly-developed metropolitan areas. (New York, Los Angeles, etc.)

However, as this very blog shows, that's not the case at all. Abusive and predatory towing is a national problem.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Alexandria, Virginia Sheds Light On Problems In The Towing Industry photo

So the newspaper in Alexandria, Virginia printed my letter to the editor, and then followed up with an article about the whopping 26 percent increase to towing fees in that city...

The article was informative, but naturally I found myself talking back to the facts and wishing I could write yet ANOTHER letter to the editor to say this:

Fred Schler of Henry's Wrecker service says he uses the internet to "dispatch in real time" and he says "as long as I have a computer I can find out where any of my cars are."

Huh? Whose cars are they? I think Fred Schler must have been one of those little children who confuses the concept of "my toys" with the concept of "other kids' toys I want to play with."

I doubt very much if citizens in Alexandria, Virginia can find out where their towed cars are "as long as [they] have a computer."

And that's really the crux of the problem, isn't it? Fees go up a whopping 26 percent, and citizens are still going to (as the towing industry expert quoted in the article said) "wake up on Sunday morning" to wonder if their car has been stolen, and how long is it going to take them to find out?

Criminal Auto Towing In Long Beach, California (3 Arrested) photo

According to this article in the Long Beach Press Telegram, "several complaints from the community" spurred a police investigation which uncovered blatant illegal actions by Mr. C's Towing of Los Alamitos...

The police in Long Beach took more initiative than most local police, it seems, when they actually parked an unmarked police car to see what would happen. Within 20 minutes, the car was towed. The same tow truck then proceeded to load up a Nissan pickup which had been parked less than five minutes.

These actions apparently constituted illegal towing, though the article doesn't say why. I assume cars parked in that area had more time to be parked than 20 minutes or 5 minutes.

The police not only arrested two tow truck drivers (Cole Bahlstrom, 32, and Walter Graham, 36) but also a security guard, Kabel Yan, 23, who were booked on grand theft auto and conspiracy. In Long Beach, towers are required to notify the police if they tow a vehicle. Also, the vehicles involved in these two incidents were not securely strapped down, which was described by police as "grossly negligent."

The matter is being handled--as it should be--by the departments Auto Theft Detail.

The article about this incident produced a lot of discussion in an on-line "Topix" forum related to the article, including some of the following observations.

* The victims of the scam were most likely students who attend a nearby college.

* In the old days, the penalty for a horse thief was hanging.

* This particular towing company has been crooked for a long time, and thank goodness the police finally did something.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Going To Byhalia" And What The Trip Reveals photo

So the deal is my blog doesn't just sit back and comment on news coverage. When I see relevant stories about predatory non-consent towing, like the recent story by Scott Madaus of WHBQ of Memphis, which I blogged about earlier, I try to contact the players to provide information about the larger national trend...

I did this with Orlando, Florida. I forwarded info to Commissioner Patty Sheehan consisting of a link to a report from Minneapolis about booting which seemed eerily relevant to Orlando's situation. All the time, I'm trying to stitch together the patchy local phenomenon into a bigger quilt of a revealing national trend.

Me. One little blogger guy. But I've seen it done before, even before the amazing world of blogging busted loose. All it takes is one person who gets hold of an issue and just won't let up.

Why did I pick THIS issue? Because I figured if I started a blog called Aramark Sucks Dot Com, I'd get whacked and besides...ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by tow trucks and my identity is all wrapped up in my wheels.

All over the country, there are colorful stories of abusive and predatory towing practices. Almost always, these are looked upon as LOCAL stories. Like, oh, my goodness, something awful is happening LOCALLY and it's a predatory practice, and here is what we're doing about it LOCALLY.

One problem. It's not local. It's national. Yet few see the issue as anything but local.

When Emmy Nominated Fox 13 investigative reporter Scott Madaus went to the tiny town of Byhalia, Mississippi, to track down vehicles being unlawfully snatched out of Memphis, Tennessee, and was roughed up by "Byhalia's finest," and given "no comment" by the mayor of that jerkwater town, and threatened by security at the apartment complex where vehicles were being (pretty much) ambushed...Madaus crossed a state line from Tennessee to Mississippi.

It probably didn't seem like a big deal, to cross that border. After all, people in that part of the country cross it constantly, usually giving it little thought. I'm sure Madaus thought he was on a LOCAL story, helping LOCAL people bullied by a snarling pack of bullies with tow trucks. The ugliness in Byhalia must have seemed very much like provincial, small town stupidity and therefore an intensely LOCAL phenomenon.

But what Madaus uncovered wasn't a LOCAL problem at all. The ugliness he saw in Byhalia isn't unique to Byhalia.

This investigative reporter sniffing out a LOCAL story actually unmasked the ugly face of a NATIONAL problem. The "Byhalia" story done by the Fox 13 Problem Solvers could be replicated by one local news station after another. Really, all you have to do is compare the local towing rules and regulations to what the towing operators are actually DOING.

I'll just say this much. The guy who did the story first should get the Emmy, even if some other news reporter does the story somewhere else and actually has to take a punch in the face for the greater good.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Towing Operator Backbiting In Madison County, NY photo

There's a lot of bickering and backbiting between towing operators in Madison County, New York, from what I can gather in a recent article on

Like many cities and counties, Madison County, New York uses a rotation system for towing vehicles involved in accidents, seizures, and break-downs which require police involvement. But, according to Dennis Fields of Sun Towing in Oneida, New York, the system has broken down and it's difficult or impossible to communicate with the 911 center.

I am hardly surprised. While the 911 Center is dealing with life and death, these towing operators want somebody as important as the sheriff of Madison County, New York, to straighten out whose precious "turn" it is on the rotation.

LIKE SO MANY OTHER TOWING OPERATOR ROTATION SYSTEMS IN OTHER PLACES (Yes, I've seen this before) confusion tend to start when a vehicle owner has a preferred tow operator OTHER THAN the next guy up on the list.

Then the question becomes, "Does that tow operator stay at the top of the list until they get a turn? Or do they go to the back of the line?"

Can busy 911 operators really be expected to care about scrupulous adherence to a rotation list, even when some towing operator keeps getting bumped? Or when a particular towing company seems to be preferred by a lot of people?

The towing companies sound like, well, "squabbling children on a playground" comes to mind. One can't help but think there should be a more automated and advanced system than (it sounds like) a clip board, not for the sake of divvying up the towing spoils but just because vehicle owners might like to know where the heck their cars went.

Yes, lost in this squabble between towing operators is the issue of ordinary citizens, and whether they are getting the choices and information from the towing system they really need. The biggest concern of the towing operators seems to be whether a special "liaison" could be appointed to deal with the sheriff's department when there are squabbles about whether somebody is getting their turn.

Seriously. A "liaison." Like somebody who mediates between two sovereigns.

At least one towing operator dared to suggest the field was (in the paraphrase of the reporter, Martha Conway) "rife for corruption, with those dispatching or responding to the scene able to influence car owners that one of their friends would be closer or somehow better."

Uh huh. Well, for the record I am a moderate who sees a need to work with towing operators as well as everybody else to improve the system, so right now I'm biting my figurative tongue to avoid throwing a few one-liners out there about who, exactly, was the one who came up with this idea about there being "corruption" associated with the towing industry.

Yes, I'm biting my tongue until it hurts.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Florida Towing Statute (Revealed And Ripped) photo

Continuing my ambitious project to put the towing statutes for all fifty states on this website, along with my critiques, here is the statute for Florida with my critiques at the bottom...

Quoting Florida Statutes, Property, Section 715.07 Vehicles or vessels parked on private property; towing

(1) As used in this section, the term:

(a) "Vehicle" means any mobile item which normally uses wheels, whether motorized or not.

(b) "Vessel" means every description of watercraft, barge, and airboat used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water, other than a seaplane or a "documented vessel" as defined in s. 327.02(8).

(2) The owner or lessee of real property, or any person authorized by the owner or lessee, which person may be the designated representative of the condominium association if the real property is a condominium, may cause any vehicle or vessel parked on such property without her or his permission to be removed by a person regularly engaged in the business of towing vehicles or vessels, without liability for the costs of removal, transportation, or storage or damages caused by such removal, transportation, or storage, under any of the following circumstances:

(a) The towing or removal of any vehicle or vessel from private property without the consent of the registered owner or other legally authorized person in control of that vehicle or vessel is subject to strict compliance with the following conditions and restrictions:

1.a. Any towed or removed vehicle or vessel must be stored at a site within a 10-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of 500,000 population or more, and within a 15-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of less than 500,000 population. That site must be open for the purpose of redemption of vehicles on any day that the person or firm towing such vehicle or vessel is open for towing purposes, from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and, when closed, shall have prominently posted a sign indicating a telephone number where the operator of the site can be reached at all times. Upon receipt of a telephoned request to open the site to redeem a vehicle or vessel, the operator shall return to the site within 1 hour or she or he will be in violation of this section.
b. If no towing business providing such service is located within the area of towing limitations set forth in sub-subparagraph a., the following limitations apply: any towed or removed vehicle or vessel must be stored at a site within a 20-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of 500,000 population or more, and within a 30-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of less than 500,000 population.

2. The person or firm towing or removing the vehicle or vessel shall, within 30 minutes after completion of such towing or removal, notify the municipal police department or, in an unincorporated area, the sheriff, of such towing or removal, the storage site, the time the vehicle or vessel was towed or removed, and the make, model, color, and license plate number of the vehicle or description and registration number of the vessel and shall obtain the name of the person at that department to whom such information was reported and note that name on the trip record.

3. A person in the process of towing or removing a vehicle or vessel from the premises or parking lot in which the vehicle or vessel is not lawfully parked must stop when a person seeks the return of the vehicle or vessel. The vehicle or vessel must be returned upon the payment of a reasonable service fee of not more than one-half of the posted rate for the towing or removal service as provided in subparagraph 6. The vehicle or vessel may be towed or removed if, after a reasonable opportunity, the owner or legally authorized person in control of the vehicle or vessel is unable to pay the service fee. If the vehicle or vessel is redeemed, a detailed signed receipt must be given to the person redeeming the vehicle or vessel.

4. A person may not pay or accept money or other valuable consideration for the privilege of towing or removing vehicles or vessels from a particular location.
5. Except for property appurtenant to and obviously a part of a single-family residence, and except for instances when notice is personally given to the owner or other legally authorized person in control of the vehicle or vessel that the area in which that vehicle or vessel is parked is reserved or otherwise unavailable for unauthorized vehicles or vessels and that the vehicle or vessel is subject to being removed at the owner's or operator's expense, any property owner or lessee, or person authorized by the property owner or lessee, prior to towing or removing any vehicle or vessel from private property without the consent of the owner or other legally authorized person in control of that vehicle or vessel, must post a notice meeting the following requirements:

a. The notice must be prominently placed at each driveway access or curb cut allowing vehicular access to the property, within 5 feet from the public right-of-way line. If there are no curbs or access barriers, the signs must be posted not less than one sign for each 25 feet of lot frontage.

b. The notice must clearly indicate, in not less than 2-inch high, light-reflective letters on a contrasting background, that unauthorized vehicles will be towed away at the owner's expense. The words "tow-away zone" must be included on the sign in not less than 4-inch high letters.

c. The notice must also provide the name and current telephone number of the person or firm towing or removing the vehicles or vessels.

d. The sign structure containing the required notices must be permanently installed with the words "tow-away zone" not less than 3 feet and not more than 6 feet above ground level and must be continuously maintained on the property for not less than 24 hours prior to the towing or removal of any vehicles or vessels.

e. The local government may require permitting and inspection of these signs prior to any towing or removal of vehicles or vessels being authorized.


My critiques: First of all, I bet the geographic restrictions on where a vehicle can be towed are constantly bent, and citizens should not assume, but double check. Quite a messy, ugly situation could materialize when a county of less than 500,000 suddenly breaks the 500k mark, but you can bet the impound lots won't suddenly move. (Note there is an exception to the rule within the statute, as well)

The requirement about when to keep the site open, the posting of the phone number, the requirement to return in an hour...all these things could give citizens an opportunity to fight, but they'd probably have to document everything with a video camera or it would be one of those "he said, she said" things if the time came to present evidence.

"Reasonable opportunity" to redeem the vehicle is not defined in the statute, so one wonders if it might be defined by case law. My experience in Minnesota tells me the case law can be pretty sparse when it comes to towing.

Note there are NO KICKBACKS ALLOWED. Oh, gee, I wonder how many different ways THAT law gets violated every single day.

Note that the signage requirements are VERY PARTICULAR, and there is certainly an opportunity to fight a tow based on those requirements if--once again--one can document the situation and avoid "he said, she said."

Ohio Takes A Stand Against Abusive Towing photo

Here is more evidence of a nation waking up to the all-too-common abuses of the towing industry. Spurred by the death of 22-year-old Danielle Knapp--a motorist who was passing by a tow truck and was killed by a 20-pound pulley crashing through her windshield--the Ohio Insurance Institute has started a website... raise awareness about unsafe, abusive, unregulated practices in the Ohio towing industry. The website discusses some legislation under consideration in Ohio, suggests ways people can contact public officials, and includes horror stories taken from complaints filed with the state attorney general's office, including this one:

In February 2006, a young man was in a two-car accident in Columbus, Ohio. The police officer at the scene of the accident called one of the preferred towing companies and the accident victim asked the tow truck driver for an estimate of what it would cost to tow his car to a particular body shop less than a mile away. He was quoted $90-$140.

Once the car was on the truck's hook, however, the driver received a call from the towing office that the tow would cost $300. When the accident victim told the tow truck operator that he didn't want the tow, the tow truck operator would not release the car and said, "The car is hooked now, I can impound it if I want."

Unfortunately, the website doesn't have a lot of content and doesn't appear to get updated very often.

But is Ohio waking up? Oh, yes, eyes are opening in the Buckeye State.

New York City Declares A Towing "Blitz" Against Its Own Citizens photo

You would think a career politician like NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly would be a little more skillful at choosing his words, unless the New York Post actually placed words in Kelly's mouth in its recent article...

But according to the New York Post, "about 150 cops and several tow trucks" were set to begin a "ticketing and towing blitz" on June 18, 2008, in lower Manhattan. Furthermore, this was the second blitz in three months.

Acting as though fake placards were common (I highly doubt it) Commissioner Kelly used a radio address to warn residents against using the fake parking credentials. defines "blitz" as follows:


1.) An overwhelming all-out attack, especially a swift ground attack using armored units and air support.

2.) An intensive aerial bombing.

3.) Any swift, vigorous attack, barrage....

OK, yeah, you get the idea. So New York City is launching a "blitz" against its citizens struggling to find places to park their cars, and trying to justify it with wild-eyed talk of some citizens who supposedly use "fake placards."

Commissioner Ray Kelly says "blitz."

I say "abuse and predatory towing practices."

Rising Gas Prices Are An Excuse To Raise Towing Fees Everywhere photo

News coming out of Tallahassee, Florida makes it official and reveals the bigger national pattern. Towing companies are using rising gas prices as an excuse to push for fee increases all over the country.

According to an article in, the Tallahassee City Commission is considering higher prices, from $88 to $100, then another $10 added on July 1.

This is the same agenda being pushed in Alexandria, Virginia, as discussed in my previous blog posting. It is happening in some other cities I haven't gotten around to blogging about, yet, and you can expert this cost-increase rationalization for towing fees to appear at a city near you in the near future.

What about the other side of the coin? Citizens are pressed hard by rising gas prices and need a break!

Predatory Towing Scandal In Memphis, Tennessee

The "Fox 13 Problem Solvers" in Memphis, Tennessee blew a predatory towing scandal wide open, exposing a shady outfit towing cars 30 miles to Byhalia, Mississippi (pictured above) without permits to operate in Memphis, much less charge $100 more than the law allows...

The towing company had a dubious arrangement with an apartment complex, it appears, and news coverage shows an intimidating security presence there as well as an outrageous surplus of parking spaces.

According to Fox 13, the company was towing cars 30 miles (45 minutes) from Memphis, Tennessee to Byhalia, Mississippi, a backwater community with 706 people (as of the 2000 census) with a median household income of $26,618. Its greatest claim to fame appears to be that novelist William Faulkner died there of a heart attack. One can't help but think of the desperate, down-and-out characters of Faulkner's greatest novel, "As I Lay Dying."

Naturally, Byhalia police intimidated and roughed up the news crew while the camera rolled. I wouldn't expect anything less.

The Byhalia-based company, BFT Towing, was charging $225, which is $100 more than the Memphis ordinance allows. They were not licensed to do business in Memphis and, furthermore, were using unmarked tow trucks in violation of another Memphis ordinance. To put the rancid cherry atop the reeking sundae, it turns out Memphis has yet another ordinance prohibiting vehicles from being towed outside of the city limits. That would include, you know, to a little town in a neighboring state.


Now the City of Memphis wants answers and is initiating an investigation. Memphis wants to hear from anybody who got towed in the City of Memphis--at any time, for any reason--by BFT Towing of Byhalia, Mississippi.

Attorney John Bisnar Fights Predatory Towing In Orange County, California

Attorney John Bisnar, California

Despite a state law prohibiting predatory towing practices, some California towing companies still engage in abusive non-consent towing. But Attorney John Bisnar stands in their way and, recently, took a case for free on behalf of a guy named Jason Taylor.

Bisnar was kind enough to touch base with by email...

...when I asked for permission to republish some material referencing him.

Bisnar said he is not trying to promote himself as an attorney to victims of predatory towing because there is "absolutely no money" in the cases. Bisnar said he took the Taylor case because "towing companies that use these tactics [mild expletive] me off and I just hate to see some guy like Taylor who is doing everything he can to fight back get bullied."

Bisnar added the following intriguing observation: "I am relatively sure there is an organized crime element to many of these tow companies. I based my opinion on how they operate, the people involved, the multiple ownerships of towing companies by the same general group of people all making a good amount of cash transactions."

Here is the article from Centre Daily which described Bisnar's legal fight on behalf of John Taylor.

"Predatory towing company in Orange County still extorts consumers," says Attorney John Bisnar

June 17, 2008

LOS ANGELES--For the past several years, newspapers such as The New York Times and Los Angeles Times have reported the abusive practices of predatory towing companies in California, particularly Orange County. According to numerous news reports, these companies have towed cars with young children in them; deliberately rammed and damaged vehicles and then extorted money from their owners for "damage" caused to their tow trucks and, in one case, caused the death of a desperate car owner who ran alongside a tow truck driver pleading for his car.

Because of these incidents, bill AB2210 was passed, becoming law in January 2007. According to the lawsuit, this new law didn't stop Beach Cities Towing Services from abusing Jason Taylor.

On Sunday, September 2, 2007, Jason Taylor had parked two vehicles in front of his condominium complex. One of the vehicles was legally parked, waiting for a parking permit from his homeowners association, and the other vehicle was temporarily parked while Taylor went inside his home.

When Taylor arrived about 10 minutes later, two tow trucks from Beach Cities had arrived. Although Taylor stated one [vehicle] was legally parked and he would move the other, the two truck drivers still towed both vehicles, ultimately charging Taylor $560 to remove them.

Taylor successfully sued in small claims court, receiving a judgment in his favor for $560 on April 17, 2007. However, on May 12, 2008, Beach Cities requested a new trial. The case was heard before Judge Margaret Anderson on June 13, 2008 in Orange County Superior Court, Case No. 30-2007-00035167-SC-SC-HLH.

Taylor won his case again, with the help of personal injury law firm Bisnar Chase. The court awarded Taylor $2,500, fining Beach Cities the maximum amount; $560 to cover his previous judgment and $150 in attorney's fees.

"I knew the law was on my side and the judge agreed," said Taylor. "It often seems like little guys like me can't get a break. Well, this time one little guy certainly did.

About Bisnar Chase

Bisnar Chase is a California personal injury law firm that represents people who have been very seriously injured or lost a family member because of an accident, a defective product or negligence. They have won a wide variety of challenging personal injury cases ranging from auto, construction, pool and on-the-job accidents, dog attacks, governmental agency negligence to defective products made by Fortune 500 companies.

For more information, visit and


I should also note that Bisnar Chase has its own blog. Yes, lawyers who are bloggers. What an amazing world we live in! Naturally, they blogged about the Taylor case.

Despite the fact relatively minor incidents like the Taylor case are not worth the time of an attorney, except for fulfilling pro bono hours and the good feeling involved, Bisnar Chase is gathering information about the larger pattern abusive towing in California. Maybe some kind of further needed reform will come out of this effort. I hope so.

Here is a link to the portion of their website where they are asking for predatory towing horror stories.

TOWING UTOPIA EXCLUSIVE: Juicy Report On Booting Abuses In Minneapolis photo

Somebody who can remain anonymous provided me the juicy 9-page staff report which documents outrageous abuses by "booters" in Minneapolis. This is the document which caused the City Council to UNANIMOUSLY ban booting by private entities...

The report pulls no punches, rather like some of the booted individuals themselves. The tendency of towers/booters to systematically prey on college students is outlined pretty well in discussion about incidents in "Dinkytown."

I hope this document might be enlightening to policy makers in other cities when it comes to common patterns of booting abuse. Without further ado, here it is.

Public Safety & Regulatory Services Committee
Title 13, Chapter 320 Vehicle Immobilization
Staff Report
May 21, 2008


The vehicle immobilization ordinance, more commonly known as booting, was first introduced to the Public Safety & Regulatory Services Committee on April 20, 1994. At this time one company was booting vehicles in Minneapolis. Without a booting license, the city was unable to regulate this industry. The city had to create a license category or ban the practice. Booting was authorized in other cities to address issues such as scofflaws, DUIs, and/or child support. Chapter 320, Vehicle Immobilization, was added to the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances.

From 1994 to 1997, five (5) booting companies applied for licenses. In September 1997 only one company, Gopher Towing, was still in business. Records are not available regarding the operation of these companies.

Since 2000, a number of new licenses have been issued to booting companies. In 2000, booting companies could not park in a lot and monitor activity. They could only respond to a call for service by the owner of the parking lot. Booting companies found it easier, and certainly more profitable, to park in a lot, monitor it themselves, and boot vehicles.

Thus the term “Predatory Practices” was used to identify the behavior of the booting industry both in Minneapolis and throughout the United States. Other complaints included non-existent or improper signs, booting without proper authorization, charging unauthorized fees, intimidating behavior, and threatening to tow a vehicle if the customer did not pay immediately. All of these complaints still occur today.

In 2005, complaints were so numerous that the 2nd Precinct Community Response Team (CRT) conducted surveillance at several parking lots. They found booters parked inside the lots, booting vehicles, and then seeking written authorized by the business owners after the fact. All of these behaviors were in violation of the code of ordinances.

When approached by the police, employees of the booting companies stated they had no knowledge or training regarding rules of operation. The following week a second employee of a particular company was found duplicating the same practices. He told police he knew the first employee had been warned about patrolling the lot and that it was a violation of ordinance. The police issued a Motor Vehicle Tampering citation. The profit margin far exceeds the fines associated with violations.

Later that year Council Member Paul Zerby made a recommendation to ban booting in Minneapolis. Instead of banning booting, staff was directed to create a Task Force to meet with the booting industry, revise the ordinance to eliminate the predatory practices, and develop stringent requirements aimed at eliminating illegal booting practices. Members of this Task Force included business owners and a consumer representative. It was assumed that the number of complaints would then decrease. In April, 2005, numerous changes were made to the code of ordinances. Additionally, training was provided to all booting companies regarding the new requirements.


The intended results of the 2005 ordinance amendments have fallen short of their mark. 52 citations have been issued to the six booting companies, totaling $24,950 in fines. Over 300 complaints have been made. Every citation appealed has been reviewed by an Administrative Hearing Officer and upheld in favor of the city. Listed below is a summary of violations the six licensed companies have accrued since 2005.

Clampdown: (August, 2003 – September, 2007) This company received 16 administrative citations totaling $11,600 and after a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) hearing was directed to reimburse $2000 in TAC fees and reimburse charges to all vehicles booted from October 1, 2005 to February 10, 2006. In March, 2006, additional violations occurred and their license was suspended for 30 days. In September 2006, License and Consumer Services’ recommendation to deny renewal of Clampdown’s license was approved by the city council.

Force Management: (July, 2000 to present) Nine (9) administrative citations totaling $5,800 in fines have been issued. They received a written warning and five administrative citations for not posting a sign stating that a parking lot “is currently under surveillance and offenders will be booted immediately” and not removing the sign when they left the lot. They have also been cited for booting vehicles without proper authorization, booting a handicap vehicle without proper authorization, overcharging, and given a warning that is was illegal to boot for a traffic violation. The activities of this company generate more complaints than any other booting company. In one case, Force Management appealed a citation and it was determined at the hearing that the boot was illegal. The client sent a request for reimbursement to the company.

Force management’s attorney responded that the matter was fully adjudicated by an administrative hearing officer and since no refund was ordered, none was due. Even though the vehicle was booted illegally, Force Management will not issue a refund. The Licenses Division cannot enforce reimbursement of fees. The booted party’s only option for reimbursement is to take Force Management to small claims court, diminishing the principles of the Administrative Hearing process established by the city.

Limited Space: (December, 2006 to present) Three administrative citations totaling $600 in fines have been paid by this company. The owner is former employee of Clampdown and the license was issued with five conditions. In addition to conditions related to complying will the ordinance, no employee may have any involvement with the past owner or any former employees of Clampdown.

The former owner of Clampdown contacted the Licenses Division to discuss an agreement he had with his former employee, the current owner of Limited Space. He stated they had a partnership agreement in which he was to get 50% of Limited Space’s booting revenue. The nature of the call was to complain that his former employee was violating this agreement. The caller submitted a Business Deposit Account Application dated February 21, 2007. Both their names and signatures were listed on this document clearly in violation of the license conditions.

Parking Solutions Inc: (September, 2003 – September, 2007) This company received eight administrative citations totaling $2,150 in fines and the city received numerous complaints. They paid their last fine of $750 in a NSF check. This money has never been collected and the company is no longer in business.

Star Phoenix: (May, 2005 – September, 2006) In their year and a half in business, this company received eleven administrative citations totaling $3,000 in fines to the city. Their violations included illegal signs while monitoring lots, sitting outside parking lots watching for vehicles, incorrect information of forms, failure to include the city’s phone on their form for customers to file complaints, and submitting false monthly booting logs. They did not submit an application to renew their license.

Wrecker Services: (June, 2000 – Present) Three administrative citations totaling $600 have been issued to this company. This was based on a single incident and the city has not had any further issues with Wrecker Services. Wrecker Services’ primary business is towing and rarely uses boots to address parking violations.

Case History:

Examples of illegal booting activities in Minneapolis are noteworthy, varied, and repetitive. In one situation the booter blocked a moving vehicle with another vehicle in order to install a boot. On anther occurrence the booter did not have a vehicle available to block the vehicle so a co-worker stood behind vehicle to prevent it from moving before the boot was secured. Other examples include the following:

A booting company was directed by the business owner repeatedly not to boot vehicles on Sundays or after 9:00 pm. when the business was closed. Since April 2007, 95 vehicles have been booted during these hours and the booting company has collected $9,500.

A former employee of a booting company reported to a License Inspector that he was reminded at least 2 dozen times to tell customers that the credit card machine was broken and they would have to pay by cash. He also reported that his company was instructed by the District Manager of the parking lot to give customers a ten minute grace period before booting their vehicles. No one should receive a boot if they parked in the lot less than ten minutes.

To this, the booting company instructed him to make sure the ten minute window was recorded on the paperwork, regardless of how long the vehicle was in the lot. The employee described that if a vehicle arrived at 8:00 p.m. and the driver returned at 8:05 p.m. with a boot on their vehicle, the paperwork indicated that the boot was not placed on the vehicle until 8:10 p.m.

A third example occurred in April, 2006 when Force Management booted an unmarked Airport police vehicle with a sign in the window stating “Airport Police on Official Business.” The officers asked if they could talk to the property manager who ordered the removal of the boot. The booting manager told the police officers that the property manager had no authority so the officers paid the fee to remove the boot. After investigating this situation, the booting manager reported to the License Inspector that he offered to remove the boot but since they had paid their fee there was nothing he could do to reimburse their money.

Complaints are received in many forms and it is not uncommon to have police involvement. In one incident, a customer went to the cash machine only to find it was broken. He then went to a cash machine across the street. When he came back to go to the video store, he saw a boot on his vehicle and called the police. The officer said it was reasonable for him to go to the other cash machine. At that point the individual was becoming hostile and the police officer ordered the boot to be removed. After it was removed the officer left the lot.

Twenty minutes later the officer was called backed to the same location due to customer trouble. The same individual’s vehicle was booted when the individual went into the video store, an authorized business. The employee of the booting company called his supervisor and was told that the police had no right to order removal of a boot and he directed his employee to reboot the vehicle immediately. The officer ordered the boot to be removed a second time and the police confiscated the boot and property inventoried it.

Another type of example frequently initiated by a complaint began with a verbal commitment from PSI to the License Inspector on September 12, 2006. PSI stated that they would send a refund the week of September 18, 2006. On November 21, 2006 PSI reported that they sent the check out on November 20, 2006. The check had still not been sent on January 24, 2007 so the License Inspector told PSI to send the check to the Licenses Division. PSI agreed. On January 29, 2007 PSI sent the License Inspector an email stating “I have sent you a check.” As of February 20, 2007 neither the Licenses Division nor the client had received the check. The check was finally received. This is not uncommon for the License Inspector to invest numerous hours and a client to wait six months or more before refunds are finally made for illegal booting practices.

Finally the following is a chronology of an actual case.

April 8, 2006: Parking Solutions Inc (PSI) boots a vehicle and requires payment of $99.75 for the boot to be removed. The individual told the PSI representative that he didn’t think they had a right to boot his car. PSI tells him to make a written request for return of his money. The individual requests a refund in writing.

May 6, 2006: PSI responds by refusing to return any money and suggests that the individual sue them in conciliation court.

May 22, 2006: The individual files a conciliation court action against PSI. PSI is served with notice that a hearing will be held on July 31, 2006.

July 31, 2006: The individual appears at the conciliation court hearing. PSI does not appear. The judge asks the individual to present his case. He does so and is awarded judgment in the amount of the immobilization fee plus costs. The individual emails PSI that same day asking to be paid. PSI responds stating that they will pay.

August 2006: No payment

September 6, 2006: PSI still has not paid the individual. The individual enters judgment in Hennepin County District Court. PSI is served with notice of entry of judgment.

September 18, 2006: Payment still not made. Individual obtains a writ of execution from Hennepin County Court and serves it on the CC Club, the business on whose behalf PSI provided the booting service. The individual also obtains an Order for Disclosure from the District Court which requires PSI to disclose the location of its assets.

October 11, 2006: Still not paid by PSI, the individual obtains an Order to Show Cause signed by Judge Patricia Belois. The Order to Show cause requires 1) PSI show up in
District Court on November 1, 2006 and 2) explain why they failed to provide the information directed by the Order for Disclosure or a bench warrant will be issued for the arrest of PSI’s CEO. That same day the individual talks to the owner on the telephone. The owner says he will pay the judgment. Payment in the amount of $250 which included costs and interest caused by the delay is made by PSI.

Booting Analysis:

There are several reasons documenting that booting practices, the impact of booting on the availability and turnover of parking, and our responsibility and ability to provide consumer protection are ill matched for the city of Minneapolis.

1. Time Delay: Based on booting industry information, 78% of people who park in retail lots are only there for 12 minutes or less. If a vehicle is immobilized, it will remain in the parking spot for a minimum of 15 additional minutes and more likely 45 minutes as people try to figure out 1) why their vehicle was booted 2) study the signs 3) talk with the booter and 4) arrange to get financing so the boot will be removed and 5) actual removal of the boot. All of this occurs in the original parking spot. Booting a vehicle contributes to the shortage of short-term parking in private lots by prolonging the time it takes for the vehicle to leave the lot and free up the spot for another customer.

2. Alternatives: There are alternatives to booting which address both the need for turnover and accountability. Vehicles could be towed. This option is most effective for violators who park for extended periods. If the majority of vehicles leave a parking lot within 12 minutes, authorized or not, turnover among parking spaces will occur prior to the arrival of a tow truck. The majority of vehicles are booted from Free Lots which do not charge a fee. These owners are not concerned with lost revenue as parking turnover is necessary for successful business operations.

3. Predatory practices: The types of complaints and violations outlined in this report are representative of the booting practices in Minneapolis for the last 14 years. Repeated citations, fines, and suspensions have not impacted the city’s ability to hold booting companies accountable to our ordinances. Additionally, as a regulatory agency, we have no authority to enforce judgments against companies, thereby diluting our ability to meet our consumer protection responsibility.

4. City Resources: The city issues approximately 9,000 licenses annually. Nine (9) of these are vehicle immobilization licenses. Several complaints are filed each week and numerous violations have been verified against nine (9) companies. The current commitment of License Inspectors assigned to enforcing regulations has not proved effective to achieve compliance in the industry. There is an inordinate amount of time chasing complaints for such a small number of licenses.

5. Demographics: In October and December of 2006, License Inspectors studied all the vehicles booted by two companies in a two month period. 520 vehicles were booted for a total of $52,000. 35% of the individuals whose vehicles were booted were Minneapolis residents. 50% were non-Minneapolis residents who live in Minnesota. 15% of the individuals were not from Minnesota. In a single lot in Dinkytown, 65% of the individuals booted lived outside of Minneapolis. Booting does not exist in any other Minnesota city with the exception of St. Paul which does virtually none.

Between June 1, 2006 and August 18, 2006 one booting company immobilized 51% of their total vehicles in a single lot in southeast Minneapolis. From August 19, 2006 through the end of September, 94% of the vehicles immobilized by this company resulted from this lot, This lot is located near the University of Minnesota and the influx of new college students, and their families, presents an opportunity in mid-August and early September.

6. Safety issues: Due to the confrontational nature of the business, violence occurs. Here are a couple of excerpts from Minneapolis police reports:

a. June 2005 - When person found that their vehicle had been booted, they became enraged and threatened the booter. They then smashed out the booter’s driver side window and left the area.

b. December 2005 - As soon as the boot was removed booted party spit in booters face and pushed him. As booter confronted booted party he was grabbed by the face. The booter maced the booted party.

c. January 2006 - Booter had just colleted the money from the pay box at the parking lot he was monitoring. As he opened his vehicle door he was pushed to the ground and taken in a strong arm hold. The robbery included $1000 and a civilian model taser.

d. February 2006 - Booter called police because he was threatened with a gun. Booter stated that he was afraid for his life because two males were yelling at him. Suspect was arrested with a Glock .40 caliber handgun and 10 rounds of ammunition.

e. February 2006 - Booted party started yelling at booter and said “I know your face and I’ll be back tomorrow and I’ll kill you.” Booted party attempted to get into the booter’s vehicle and kneed the front passenger door. Booter got out of his vehicle and said he would mace the booted party. Booter said the booted party came within inches of him saying “You’re not gonna mace me. I’ll kick your ass.” Booter stated that he was in fear for his safety and called police. Booted party left the area.

f. April 2006 - Booter and booted party started swearing at each other. Booter then maced booted party. A fight broke out and booted party had booter in headlock when police arrived.

g. March 2006 - Booter was taking a boot off a vehicle. As he released it, the booted party drove away driving over the booter’s foot and leg. Booted party fled the scene. Booter was treated by paramedics. Booted party was booked for felony hit and run and criminal vehicular operation.

h. August 2006 - When person came back and found their vehicle booted, they went over to the booter’s vehicle and poured a large cola over the booter’s head and his car seat.

i. August 2006 - Booted party tried to pull the boot off and was going to drive away with the boot on. The booter parked his vehicle behind the booted party to block it and went to tighten the boot. At that time the booted party punched the booter in the mouth. When booter went to get his taser, booted party left the area and called police.

j. August, 2007: License Inspector conducted surveillance of booting procedures. Called 911 for a squad when he watched a booted party grab the booter by the neck, lift him off the ground, and started chocking him.

Industry Position

Literature from a booting company in Chicago, IL (Chicago Parking Management, Inc, 2007) and Clampdown in Minneapolis have developed brochures used for marketing their services. These companies make the following claims to promote and justify their business practices.

a. Many lot owners and management firms are troubled with towing customer’s cars. However, without enforcing the parking fees, customers will take advantage of parking.

The fact that almost all the lots where booting has occurred in Minneapolis are free lots dissolves this platform.

b. Immobilization companies state that towing vehicles would be less effective. Since 78% of retail lot violators illegally park for twelve minutes or less, parkers have time to park illegally and exit before a tow truck arrives.

Neither towing nor booting are not effective for short-term parkers. Illegal parkers will get away but the turnover of parking spots is preserved without intervention.

3. The vehicle is not moved which automatically increases the city’s liability when a mistake is made by the tow company.

The Licenses Division has not received a complaint about a vehicle towed in error. Additionally, complaints filed about tow companies have been resolved in two or less telephone calls.

4. The violator pays the booting company right away and does not have to travel to get to the impound lot to claim their vehicle.

There is not immediate response when a vehicle is booted. A 45 minute time period before a vehicle is safe to drive does not represent a standard of convenience for customers.

Secondly, the practice in the industry stating that the credit card machines were broken and only cash would be accepted puts individuals at risk and is difficult to regulate. If a tow is justified, an inconvenience results for the individual. However, it is arguable that this provides a greater protection to consumers.

5. The income generated from booting parking violators is used to offset the cost of lot maintenance and repair.

In the past, there was nothing prohibiting booting companies from offering property owners a percentage of the booting fee. The 2005 ordinance amendments have prohibited this practice. There is no evidence that this practice has ceased, but there is no documented evidence that it is still occurring. If this premise is true, remuneration is occurring in Minneapolis.

6. Unauthorized cars tie up spaces in parking lots during the lag time waiting for a tow truck. Paying customers cannot get to businesses.

A booted vehicle remains unauthorized in a lot until the boot is removed. This has the same impact on paying customers.

Best Practices

On July 24, 2005 a bill was passed in the state of Washington with a vote from the house of 94 to 0 and 46 to 0 in the Senate.

One year later the state of Washington abolished the practice of booting. That bill stated the following:

“Immobilize” is defined as the use of a locking wheel boot that, when attached to the wheel of a vehicle, prevents the vehicle from moving without damage to the tire to which the locking wheel boot is attached. Property owners are prohibited from immobilizing any vehicle not owned by them; however, the state or any unit of local government is exempt from this prohibition. A violation of this act is a gross misdemeanor.” They also added a penalty provision to the bill – up to $5,000 fine and/or one year confinement for a violation.

Other private property booting regulations of 19 cities similar to Minneapolis include the following:

Five (5) other cities allow booting:

1. Atlanta, Georgia - $50 boot removal fee.
2. Chicago, Illinois - $115 boot removal fee. Private and municipal companies authorized to boot in specific wards.
3. Denver, Colorado – Boot removal fee is the same as a parking meter violation.
4. Madison, Wisconsin - Maximum $50 boot removal fee. The booted party may either pay the removal fee or sign a deferral agreement in which the person agrees to pay the removal fee to the parking enforcer or contest the booting.
5. Miami, Florida - Maximum $85 boot removal fee. The city receives a $25 administrative fee for each vehicle booted.
6. Minneapolis: Booting fee is 75% of the Impound/Towing fee. Current cap is $103.50.

Nine (9) cities had no information in their ordinance which indicates that it is not allowed:

1. Biloxi, Mississippi, 2. Dallas, Texas, 3. Houston, Texas, 4. Indianapolis, Indiana,
5. Kansas City, Missouri, 6. Knoxville, Tennessee, 7. Omaha, Nebraska, 8. St. Louis, Missouri, 9. San Francisco, California

Five (5) cities only allow city officials to boot for parking violations:

1. Cincinnati, Ohio, 2. Detroit, Michigan, 3. Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, 4. Reno, Nevada,
5. White Plains, New York.


Based on the information outlined in this report, the Licensing Division recommends that Title 13 Chapter 320 be amended to prohibit vehicle immobilization on private property in the city of Minneapolis and failure to adhere to this is defined as a criminal violation.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why Can't Orlando, Florida Just "Ban The Boot?" photo, downtown Orlando

According to coverage by, city commissioners are fed up with renegade towing operators, but state law prevents them from "banning the boot" like the City of Minneapolis recently did...

To this I say, "Why?" Why can't the local city commission--which clearly knows best the needs of a tourist mecca such as Orlando, Florida, since the commissioners are its local grassroots government representatives--just ban booting?

After all, Minneapolis banned booting. Of course, Minneapolis left a minor exception, and it seems to me Orlando could do the same thing. Ban all the booting EXCEPT for the minor exception of small parking lots where tow trucks can't maneuver, and then be in compliance with Florida state law. My little suggestion to stir the pot.

In the meantime, signs are going up all over Orlando, warning drivers they will "get the boot" if they park illegally. The city apparently has to step in to be the "nice booters" because the towing companies were acting outrageously as "bad booters."

City residents are described as "sick of it" and one resident said towing companies were try to "sandbag" residents to squeeze out as much dough as possible. Commissioner Patty Sheehan said there were "egregious violations (by towing operators) with people legally parked."

(Note to self: try to contact Sheehan for more details)

Sheehan is pushing a number of reforms to booting law, including waiting 15 minutes and notifying police before putting on a boot. OK, at this point I have to wonder why Orlando doesn't look into technology to notify drivers of an impending tow or boot.

(Apparent predator towing operator) Paul Gren says the reforms won't "run him out of downtown Orlando" because Florida state law still allows booting.

Huh. Yeah. Why is that the case? Why should the state thwart cities in this matter, when even business owners like Dave Beatriz are saying booting "doesn't do any good."

To this I would add: tourism is the lifeblood of Orlando, Florida, and reading stuff like this sure doesn't make an outsider (such as myself) want to visit with their car. I remember well how defensive folks were in Birmingham, Alabama about their downtown in a different blog post, but you can't say Birmingham depends on tourism the way Orlando does.

I hope folks with a good head on their shoulders like Commissioner Sheehan can reign in the renegade towing operators.

A Dark Day In Alexandria, Virginia

Once again, it pains me to hear a city in Virginia is (shall we say?) pulling in the wrong direction when it comes to non-consent towing fees. First Virginia Beach went nuts on its citizens, and now word comes Alexandria, Virginia, will soon be shaking down its residents.

According to WAVY TV 10, Alexandria is increasing its towing fees on July 1 a whopping 26 percent, from $135 to $170.

How will citizens pay for the extra fees? Well, perhaps from all the money they're saving this summer on gasoline.

(My sarcasm font is broken, I will have to point it out manually)

(Do not click "Read More")

Booting Outlawed! A New Day Dawns In Minneapolis photo

Right when it seems there is no progress, and hardly anybody is paying attention, surprising change happens right out of the blue. Car booting has been outlawed in Minneapolis! Woo hoo!!!!!!! It's enough to...

...make "Angle Grinder Man" jump right out of his skintight superhero costume and dance in the streets for joy.

And, as you might suspect, this blog did play a minor role. The documented "booting horror stories" certainly made their way around and, when the time came to write the story in Minnesota Daily, I was in touch with the reporter and recommended one of my blog contributors as a good source of a "booting horror story."

Here is how things appear to have gone down, in thumbnail summary, according to the fine Minnesota Daily article by Anna Ewart.

The City Council voted UNANIMOUSLY to ban the practice of booting (with limited exceptions for lots too small for a tow truck to maneuver) as of midnight, Saturday, June 14.

Booting had been allowed since 1994, but the city council documented several "predatory practices," such as booting without adequate signage and without proper authorization. Some used "intimidating behavior" to shake down drivers for fees paid on the spot, threatening the drivers with towing.

Booting companies had received 52 citations in 3 years, with fines totaling approximately $25,000. Minneapolis is one of the few cities which allow booting, and had a higher-than-average cap at $103.50. Complaints were especially bad in the University area, where students were soft, easy targets.

The owner of a Gopher Towing, Gene Buell, said he stopped booting when unethical practices began popping up in Minneapolis, including kickbacks to the owners of lots. This practice was outlawed in 2005, but the city's report said it "might have continued anyway."

Gee, maybe I need to get my hands on this juicy city report and publish it verbatim.

However, I'm actually more worried about St. Paul than Minneapolis. Yes, indeed, it is dawn in Minneapolis but it continues to be midnight in St. Paul. With the light rail set to eliminate so much parking along University Avenue in St. Paul, something "darker than midnight" is on the horizon, a horrible tow truck feeding frenzy, like circling sharks picking off shipwreck survivors.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Towing Scandal In New Haven, Connecticut

Above, New Haven City Hall

Tows were allegedly called off for "politically-connected scofflaws" in New Haven, Connecticut...

According to an excellent article by New Haven Register Reporter Elizabeth Benton.

Though lacking the complex and ongoing nature of the lovely little towing scandal in San Antonio, this particular scandal had more intensity and resulted in State Marshals being shuffled out of the towing program and replaced with City Constables for (ever-so-allegedly) "fixing tows."

(That's my term. Like it?)

Here's the good news: New Haven is looking to "gradually eliminate the need for towing."

Uh-huh. I'm not holding my breath.

Towing Utopia says: Don't go booting everybody and calling that "eliminating towing."

New Haven, if you want to eliminate towing, this will require the use of technology to, for example, send cell phone and email alerts to auto owners to warn of an impending tow. And a city government can't do this on its own with clunky bureaucratic resources, at least not very well.

You need to put out a request for proposal (RFP) and get a private company involved. This blog would be happy to publicize progress in that regard, so a lot of different entities hear about the situation and some good proposals come in.

New Haven, your goal is admirable. From the reeking muck of this scandal, perhaps something pure and good will rise, like a lotus blossom. (Ohhhhhhhhhhmmmmmmm)