Seattle proposal caps fees for involuntary tows from private property

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Seattle proposal caps fees for involuntary tows from private property

Mayor Mike McGinn and Councilmember Nick Licata today announced plans to cap fees for involuntary tows from private property. The proposed legislation, which goes to the City Council tomorrow, protects consumers while balancing tow companies’ business interests and private property owners’ ability to seek relief from unauthorized parking. Standard impounds will be capped at $156.75, and storage rates are limited to $15.50 for up to 12 hours. Sales tax and an impound fee, yet to be determined, will also be applied.

“This proposal protects Seattle visitors and residents from predatory towing fee policies,” said McGinn. “After performing extensive outreach to all stakeholders, we believe it is fair to all parties, including towing operators. I thank Councilmember Licata for his work on this proposal and look forward to Council action to make this proposal the law.”

Predatory towing practices include:

  • charging unwarranted or excessive fees, particularly in connection with impounding vehicles from private parking lots that may not display warnings to the vehicle owners;
  • overcharging consumers for involuntary tows; and
  • holding a vehicle owner’s personal belongings until all tow fees have been paid.

Councilmember Nick Licata worked with staff from the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services to develop the proposal.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to charge people who park on private property when they aren’t authorized to do so,” Licata said. “However, they shouldn’t have to pay whatever the towing company decides, no matter how high the rate. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the City Council to create this new regulatory program.”

Seattle joins the ranks of other cities, such as Minneapolis, Portland and Indianapolis, which cap private towing rates. The proposed legislation creates a regulatory framework for all tow companies and drivers, including:

  • background checks for truck operators;
  • operating and conduct standards, such as prohibitions against operating without a license or driving a truck when unfit;
  • personnel who are available to the public 24×7 to release an impounded vehicle;
  • posting appropriate signage regarding fees and redemption procedures; and
  • complaint investigation procedures.

It also allows consumers to remove or retrieve personal property or possessions from a vehicle, either at the scene of a tow or at a vehicle storage facility prior to payment. Under the proposal, tow companies and tow truck cannot charge a fee for or refuse to allow this retrieval.

The program is expected to begin in January 2013.

A detailed description of the proposal can be found here.