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As private parking lots pop up, city cracks down on predatory towing

A sign in the paid parking lot on Church Street behind Badcock furniture would have to be updated to comply with a new city ordinance. A sign in the paid parking lot on Church Street behind Badcock furniture would have to be updated to comply with a new city ordinance.

Reacting to "popup" private parking lots and complaints of "predatory towing," the City Council last week moved to crack down on surprise towing and require clear communication of parking lots' rates and rules.

“There’s two rules,” City Attorney Angela Beeker told council members as she explained the ordinance she had drafted to address complaints. “You post to tow and you post to charge. The idea is that people know what the rules are. It’s to put the public on notice. If you pull in this lot and you don't pay or if this is for residents only and you are not a resident you could be towed — so they know what they’re getting into.”

An unforeseen consequence of the $2/hour parking rate downtown the city imposed starting March 1 is that owners of private property have reacted by monetizing vacant land. Many have installed the same ParkMobile app and kiosks that the city uses. The rates and minimum times to park are sometimes higher than the city’s $2/hour rate.

Among findings the council adopted to support the enactment of the ordinance were that towing or booting of vehicles have exposed the public or towing company personnel “to harm,” deprived the vehicle owner of transportation or even led to altercations between car owners and tow truck drivers.

The aim of the ordinance, the findings say, is to make sure parking is available on private lots, make sure drivers are not caught off-guard if their car is towed from a lot that lacks the proper signage and ensure that people whose cars are towed can retrieve their car and their belongings “without being subject to coercive practices.”

Private lots that tow vehicles for parking violations must post in clear signage:

  • The parking rate and what types of payments are accepted.
  • Towing fee and release fee if there is one separate from the towing fee.
  • Contact number for the owner of the lot.

Other specific rules bar companies from towing vehicles to a location more than 15 miles from the parking lot the vehicle was towed from. They also must:

  • Store towed vehicles in a secure lighted lot.
  • Accept cash, debit cards and two major credit cards.
  • Respond to calls within 15 minutes 24 hours a day and make the impounded vehicles available within 45 minutes of the call.
  • Allow owners to retrieve personal property from their vehicles.

The ordinance goes into effect Nov. 1.