Predatory Towing Or Just Property Rights

June 12, 2010

If you travel to Philadelphia for a cheese steak or a soft pretzel be careful where you park your car. However, if Mayor Michael Nutter signs a bill passed recently in city council you may not have to worry.

The bill would require that the police or the parking authority ticket cars parked illegally on private property before they can be towed.

Currently the property owners engage towing companies to remove cars that are illegally parked on their property. Those vehicles get towed to the tow company’s impound lot. There is much debate over whether the tow companies are contacted first by the property owners or sort of cruise areas looking for violators.

The whole issue has been festering for some time, but was exposed in detail last fall when the City Controller Alan Butkovitz released the findings of a report saying that the tow companies were charging fees in excess of what was allowed by city code. The companies commonly listed the excessive charges on signs that are placed on lots to inform car owners where they might find their vehicles. The tow companies were also insisting on payment in cash.

Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney sponsored the bill and told WHYY that there was a need for someone other than the tow truck operator to decide if the vehicle should be towed. “The reason we want the legislation is that we want some arbitrator of fact, either a police officer or a Parking Authority agent or enforcement officer to say yes, the car is illegally parked. Yes, here is the ticket. You can tow it", Kenney told Dave Davies of the NPR affiliate.

Predatory towing has become a larger concern as growing municipalities become more crowded causing a dwindling amount of available parking. A Phoenix TV station reported that tow companies use spotters to alert them to parking violators, which enables them to tow cars that would otherwise never come to their attention. In Charlotte the city’s committee on community safety has looked into complaints that tow company personnel move in on violators very quickly and then charge fees in excess of the maximum allowed.

Back in Philadelphia the controversy continued as one of the tow services responded on-line to the passage of Kenney’s bill. The writer said that the tow services were not contacted for input into the legislation and that the same people that complain about abuse are also vocal about the limited parking in the city. For this person it was all about property rights.

Although the urge to slip into a convenience store parking lot for just a few minutes, may be irresistible, it does come with what could be some very expensive baggage.    


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