Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Summary Of Anti-Predatory Towing Law In California

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This is certainly not legal advice, but I recently turned up a thumbnail summary of the law in California, and so--as part of my effort to be a one-stop-shop in regard to predatory and abusive towing issues, including laws to protect against that sort of thing, I'm going to reproduce the "thumbnail summary" of the law for those who may be searching for a clewwwwwwwwww in California....

This summary comes from Consumer Connection, a publication of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. It is, therefore, public and government information which can be promulgated verbatim.

This is apparently the law which banned "patrol towing" in California, something activist Sean Cruz is always urging for the State of Oregon, click here.

The Law's Preamble. Or Not.

"Tow truck drivers risk their lives every day to..."

OK, forget that part. If you want to read pro-tow propaganda, you can check out this blog, click here. I'll skip to the good part:

Patrol Towing Is The Devil

The worst cases of predatory towing involve "patrol" or "satellite" towing. That's when a tow truck driver, on a tip from a spotter, tows away a car illegally parked on private property, such as a no-parking area of a shopping mall or apartment complex. If that happens, the car owner has to pay the cost of towing, storage, and other fees to get the car back.

A new law, Assembly Bill 2210 (Goldberg, Chapter 609, Statutes of 2006) protects consumers against the worst of illegal towing. Under AB 2210, if you spot a tow truck driver taking your car, and the tow truck is still on private property, the driver must release your car to you unconditionally.

Fines For Tow Truck Drivers

A tow truck operator who violates this law is subject to a civil misdemeanor, a fine of $2,500, and/or three months in jail. Also, consumers who can prove they have been charged illegal or excessive towing or storage fees are entitled to recover four times the amount of those fees in small claims court.

Below is a summary of the changes in the law under AB 2210. Remember these guidelines apply only to tows from private property.

One-Hour Rule

A vehicle must be parked for one full hour before being towed unless it is parked in a manner that interferes with an entrance or exit, is within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, or in a fire lane. The curb of a fire line must be painted red and be clearly labeled "NO PARKING FIRE LANE."

Unconditional Release

If a vehicle owner encounters a tower removing his or her vehicle but the truck is not yet on a public road, the owner may demand the immediate and unconditional release of the vehicle. The law does not require the owner to provide a driver's license.

Reasonable Release Fee (Or, So Much For "Unconditional Release")

If the tower releases a vehicle that has been illegally parked, the tower is entitled to no more than one-half of his normal towing fee. Local law enforcement can tell you what the normal towing fee is in your area.

Ten-Mile Limit

A tower cannot take your vehicle to a storage lot that is more than ten miles from where it was parked.

Clearly-Posted Warning

A tower must have written consent from the property owner or his agent, who must have waited one hour before calling for the tow. Also, a sign not less than 17 inches by 22 inches in size should be displayed in plain view at all entrances to the property.

Valid Towing Permit (Photos, Records, No Kick-Backs)

The tower must have a valid motor carrier permit, shall make records and photographs of each tow available for law enforcement, and shall not share profits from towing with property owners who call for a vehicle removal.

Credit Cards OK

The tower must accept credit cards in payment for towing and storage fees, which must be reasonable.

Compliance Within 24 Hours Equals One Day Maximum Storage Charge

If the appropriate fees are paid within the initial 24 hours of storage and the storage facility fails to comply or is not open during normal business hours, then only one day's storage fee may be charged.

Reasonable Gate Fee

The gate fee, or maximum hourly charge for releasing a vehicle after normal business hours, shall be one half the hourly tow rate charged for initially towing the vehicle, or less.

Penalty For Excessive Charges

A person who charges a vehicle owner a towing service or storage charge at an excessive rate is liable to the vehicle owner for four times the amount charged.

If You Have A Complaint

You should contact your local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau--

(OK, let me break in right now and say that's just LAME)

You may also check the driver's reposessor's license on DCA's Bureau of Security and Investigative Services or by calling 800-952-5210. Civil claims against a tower should be filed in the Small Claims Court. The Department of Consumer Affairs also publishes a Guide to Using the Small Claims Court.

Weaknesses In The Law

The biggest weakness is there is no oversight arm apparent. The advice to "contact local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau" is worthless. Honestly, I've never had any luck with the Better Business Bureau. There needs to be a bureau to complain about the ineffectiveness of the Better Business Bureau.

In regard to the "one hour rule," how will this stuff be PROVEN? This rule presents an opportunity for somebody to try to catch predatory towing companies in the act, but little more. Proving the vehicle sat somewhere for less than an hour is going to be quite difficult.

The law also says the towing companies must accept credit cards. It doesn't say "all major credit cards." An obvious loophole.

The law doesn't require towing companies to be open 24 hours. Other jurisdictions require this. California needs to catch up.

However, all in all, you're a lot better being in California than in the abusive predatory towing playground of Oregon, for example.

2 comments:

Sweety said...

I just received a one-line email from the San Jose Better Business Bureau that my case is closed. So with the tower's attached response to my rebuttal, I presume the BBB deemed the tower had the final word!

I studied the new CA DMV laws and it is an outrage that the tower carries on business the way it does! My car was unlawfully towed from a visitor parking space in a complex where my friends live.

Anonymous said...

You made one silly mistake when you said they don't need a drivers license. True! BUT, you quoted the rule underneath, I don't know about you, but I'm not going to give you the car until I can Bill you. Which requires ID. If you don't have id then you don't own the car, which means you shouldn,t have been driving it anyway. The laws allow me to charge you. It doesn't stipulate how! And I am quite sure that you don't want to push that issue right now as that would excite people to push for tighter proof of ownership policies. Hence if you were dumb enough to let your friend who is obviously not on your insurance drive your car, then guess what I will get to impound it anyway. On second thought go ahead and push!!!
Then everyone will realize their stupidity, and we will finally get real towing laws back. Your days of disrespecting good honest property owners are numbered. Just going on to somebody elses property and telling them to screw off and walk away are numbered. I and my family have always had the brains to read a sign when parking. Betchya don't do that at a diamond pay parking lot. The whole issue is common sense VS. the brainless. WAKE UP!