I understand the temptation of private property tows. Opportunities for private property towing are everywhere. Anywhere there is a parking lot, there is the potential for a private property tow. The marketing concept is simple. The private property tower approaches the private property owner and says they will provide all of the signs for free and essentially protect the property from unwanted trespassers, all at no costs to the property owner. The property owner is thrilled. Business is booming for the tower.
It’s a gold mine … only sometimes it’s not.
Because private property towing is so contentious, towers willing to engage in private property towing must do so with an understanding that this game is played with a different set of rules. First, a tower must meticulously follow any local ordinance or law that regulates private property towing. Most every municipality around my hometown of Kansas City, Mo., has an ordinance that requires prerequisites be met before a vehicle can be towed. Most cities require specific signage that must be posted and the requisite time before towers can begin towing from the lot. Kansas City’s sign requirement contains a specific height and width requirement and further requires a “pictorial” symbol of a tow truck so that non-English speakers can have fair notice that their vehicle might get towed. While these requirements might seem mundane, I have had more than one case where a tower is being prosecuted because they didn’t follow the letter of the law in satisfying each one.
Once the vehicle is towed, most cities then require an itemized receipt be given to the consumer detailing charges. Furthermore, towers are required to give the local police notice of where the car was towed to and from. Again, all of these must be followed specifically or the tower can wind up with serious legal problems.
Finally, if the vehicle’s owner nev-er arrives to claim the towed vehicle, towers should be well versed in their local lien law to determine what remedies are available. Some of my most memorable tow cases have involved the case of the nice car with a big outstanding loan that was towed from private property and then auctioned by the tow company. The creditor will demand copies of all of the required notices for the lien and further demand that all of the private property laws have been followed. If the tow company is able to provide proof, this can result in a nice lien sale for the tow company. However, if the tow company fails to do so, creditors are quick to sue tow companies for stealing their collateral.
Once a tow company becomes well versed in the specific laws applicable to private property towing, there are a few practical suggestions I have that might make a company’s life a little easier.
For example, the reputation of the tow company engaging in private property towing is certainly going to take a beating in the all important court of public opinion. Local news channels seem quick to jump on the story of the “seedy” tower who has towed the vehicle of the unsuspecting victim.
Thus I suggest that existing tow companies with solid reputations that desire to enter into private property towing create a separate business entity that will only tow from private property. This way, the tow company is able to realize some of the potential gains that private property towing offers but is able to salvage the reputation of their existing business.
There is also an entirely different set of technology that I truly believe is a must for the private property tower. Individuals who have had their vehicles towed usually complain that their vehicle was not illegally parked or that the tow company failed to post the required signage before towing their vehicle. What better way is there to refute these allegations than photographs of the vehicle illegally parked and of the signage posted thereby? Every private property tow in my mind creates the potential for a lawsuit or prosecution and this “evidence” often carries the eventual day in Court. These investments are not cheap but it was either make the investment or go out of business because of the relentless threat of criminal prosecution.
Private property towing offers the chance at a serious boost in revenues provided a tower is willing to accept the inherent risks of this area of the profession. Fortunately, if a tower is willing to follow the letter of the law and spend a little extra money to protect their business at the beginning, these rewards can be realized.