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TOWING&RECOVERY April 2010 Reaching thousands of industry professionals monthly TECH TALK Page 14 TOWING LAW Hard Fight Won How NJ towers beat the system Page 10 HEAVY DUTY Mired InMuck A sunken tugboat challenges towers Page 22 NEXT MONTH! 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition Great time to ADVERTISE Call David Abraham 877-219-7734, Ext 1 Volume 20, Number 11 ❘ $3.95 Daniel Leon, Berry Bros. Towing: “We got called out to tow a Toyota Highlander that was blocking someone in who had to go and pick up their child from daycare. The parking stall was designated as a stall that you can park in, but not if a vehicle is in frontof it. The per- son was dolly-towed away.” By Allan T. Duffin Irate vehicle owners. Tow truck driv- ers prowling for illegally parked cars. High impound fees. State laws that try to keep everything on an even keel. These are just some of the things that come to mind when people talk about private property towing. It can be a lucrative part of a towing compa- ny’s repertoire, yet it can bring with it as many problems as profits. Jeanette Rash, president of Fast Tow © 2010 Dominion Enterprises. All Rights Reserved. Wrecker Service in Houston, Texas, began conducting private property tows during the early 1980s. Her first contract was with a bank. To attend the nearby theatre, people would park their vehicles near the bank’s ATM machines. With all the traffic, life became difficult for the bank’s cus- tomers. Since the bank was responsi- ble for the safety of its customers, it had Rash’s company tow cars away from the ATMs. “It was dangerous for the customers to get out of their cars to use the ATM machine just because someone else wanted covered parking,” recalled Rash. “A little Triumph parked on their steps — literally — too.” “ “One paid us in pennies to get us back” ing makes up about 10 to 15 percent of our impound business,” said Bob Berry, whose company conducted its first tow back in 1973. Limiting Clients ” However, private property towing isn’t always such a dicey proposition. In Oakland, CA, Berry Brothers Towing & Transport, Inc. works as towing con- tractor for a number of local property owners, often via the security compa- nies that are responsible for keeping watch over real estate such as large apartment buildings and condomini- um complexes. “Private property tow- Because private property towing can be a legal minefield with angry vehicle owners complaining at every turn, some towers elect to keep their client base small. “Due to the negativity in- volved,” explained Amanda Adolf, own- er of Preferred Towing in Castaic, CA, “we only conduct private property tows for a select few accounts.” Property owners and vehicle own- ers, sometimes glaring at each other with fists up, have varying opinions about private property towing. “Prop- erty owners are grateful for the service: removing an abandoned vehicle or a vehicle that’s illegally parked,” said Adolf. “Many vehicle owners know- ingly park their vehicles in illegal areas, See PPI TOWING, page 6 Tracking Trucks Eyes on the road from the office FOOTNOTES Somebody Has To Do It ® www.trfootnotes.com The private property tow is an unpopular necessity FREE! GET US Towing&Recovery Footnotes® 10 Bokum Rd. Essex, CT 06426 PRST STD MAIL U.S.POSTAGE PAID Hanover,PA PERMIT 117 www.trfootnotes.com
Allan T. Duffin
Irate vehicle owners. Tow truck drivers prowling for illegally parked cars.<br /> <br /> High impound fees. State laws that try to keep everything on an even keel.<br /> <br /> These are just some of the things that come to mind when people talk about private property towing. It can be a lucrative part of a towing company’s repertoire, yet it can bring with it as many problems as profits.<br /> <br /> Jeanette Rash, president of Fast Tow Wrecker Service in Houston, Texas, began conducting private property tows during the early 1980s. Her first contract was with a bank. To attend the nearby theatre, people would park their vehicles near the bank’s ATM machines. With all the traffic, life became difficult for the bank’s customers.<br /> <br /> Since the bank was responsible for the safety of its customers, it had Rash’s company tow cars away from the ATMs.<br /> <br /> “It was dangerous for the customers to get out of their cars to use the ATM machine just because someone else wanted covered parking,” recalled Rash. “A little Triumph parked on their steps — literally — too.” However, private property towing isn’t always such a dicey proposition.<br /> <br /> In Oakland, CA, Berry Brothers Towing & Transport, Inc. works as towing contractor for a number of local property owners, often via the security companies that are responsible for keeping watch over real estate such as large apartment buildings and condominium complexes. “Private property towing makes up about 10 to 15 percent of our impound business,” said Bob Berry, whose company conducted its first tow back in 1973.<br /> <br /> Limiting Clients<br /> <br /> Because private property towing can be a legal minefield with angry vehicle owners complaining at every turn, some towers elect to keep their client base small. “Due to the negativity involved,” explained Amanda Adolf, owner of Preferred Towing in Castaic, CA, “we only conduct private property tows for a select few accounts.” Property owners and vehicle owners, sometimes glaring at each other with fists up, have varying opinions about private property towing. “Property owners are grateful for the service: removing an abandoned vehicle or a vehicle that’s illegally parked,” said Adolf. “Many vehicle owners knowingly park their vehicles in illegal areas,Creating disorder and inconveniencing others.” While many vehicle owners act responsibly, some either don’t understand or don’t care about where they’re leaving their vehicles. “For some reason, some vehicle owners feel they should be allowed to park or even abandon their vehicle wherever they want,” noted Adolf. By the same token, she added, many vehicle owners do not clearly understand private property towing laws and tend to feel they have been victimized regardless of the circumstances.<br /> <br /> Berry Brothers Towing has signs made that its property-owner clients can post around their real estate. It’s important, said Berry, to make the rules clear to the property owners. “In the state of California, if it’s a retail outlet like a McDonald’s, a 7-Eleven, a grocery store, or a shopping center, the car has to be there for at least an hour before it can be towed,” explained Berry.<br /> <br /> The towers work with the property owner or the security company overseeing the premises. “We ask them to write down when the vehicle was first seen and provide that information to us,” said Berry. “We’re required by law to put that down on our paperwork.”<br /> <br /> Angry Owners<br /> <br /> Adolf finds that dealing with angry and out-of-control vehicle owners is one of the negative things about the job. “At times, vehicle owners feel they have been victimized and resort to violence,” said Adolf, “never mind the fact that they disregarded the law and parked illegally.” Rash sympathizes with some of the parking companies in Houston, since their lots have often been the victims of customers who exit the premises without paying the fee. “They have many folks who just would not pay,” explained Rash.<br /> <br /> Today, parking companies track their customers carefully by noting the date, time, and space of each vehicle, Rash noted. “It costs us all when people steal money from any company, including a parking company,” she added.<br /> <br /> Angry vehicle owners come in all shapes and sizes — and, sometimes, they are even law enforcement officers.<br /> <br /> Rash notes that sometimes she has to tow patrol cars assigned to the county sheriff’s department. “Some of them didn’t pay as many as 20 times,” she lamented. “One paid us in pennies one time to get us back. My clerk laughed and told the deputy that we needed change anyway — and made him stand by the window while she counted every single penny!”<br /> <br /> Let Us Prey<br /> <br /> Unfortunately, towing companies can cause just as many problems as vehicle owners do. Predatory towers — those who look for a vehicle that may or may not be illegally parked, then charge exorbitant fees to release the vehicle to its owner — have made life difficult for towers who try to make an honest living. “There are some towing companies that do not adhere to the rules and regulations in regard to private property towing,” said Adolf.<br /> <br /> Adolf pointed to the television series “Operation Repo” as an example of how some companies, whatever their service, can paint an entire industry in horrible hues. “[The show] gives true repo companies a bad image,” said Adolf. “Operation Repo is not real, but reenactments with paid actors.” The show commonly depicts the repo company assaulting vehicle owners and entering private property illegally, said Adolf. Like the faux repossession team depicted in Operation Repo, predatory towers have given the towing industry a poor reputation, she explained. “I cannot express enough my disgust with predatory companies and the black eye it gives to the industry.”<br /> <br /> Restrictive Regs<br /> <br /> Like other towers, Berry carefully follows state law when towing vehicles from private property. “We have over 2,500 accounts and we probably do on average two to three private property tows a day,” said Berry. “We’re really strict on the rules. We want to make sure we’re not violating the law and exposing our customers — the property owners — to any liability. We try to keep them informed, and we ask that they stay informed about the law here in California.” In Texas, “we have a very, very good state law on private property towing,” said Rash. However, she added, due to the prevalence of predatory towing in the state, towing companies need to be careful when dealing with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR), which oversees the complaint process for vehicle owners who feel they’ve been improperly towed.<br /> <br /> “You may lose a tow hearing for no good reason,” said Rash, “depending on the judge and if the people are convincing enough — even if you have photos.”<br /> <br /> “We are regulated to death now,” she continued. “Previously we had good state laws but no enforcement. Now we have state enforcement, which is what we needed. But with all the heat from private property towing, we have local and county and state tow hearings.<br /> <br /> We may be dealing with several agencies about the same tow. It is wearing me out!” Similarly, in California, Adolf notes that a crackdown on predatory towing companies resulted in Vehicle Code Section 22658, which lays out regulations for private property towing. This includes fees, method of payment, notification requirements, and the like.<br /> <br /> According to Adolf, one of the most notable cases in California ended in multiple charges filed against a towing company and its owners, who were eventually convicted of breaking the law. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop these particular towers from preying on innocent motorists.<br /> <br /> Law Breakers<br /> <br /> “These types of convictions should keep an individual from operating a towing company in the future; howev-Er, this is not the case,” said Adolf. “The two owners are currently operating under a new company name listed to another individual in order to gain state contracts,” she explained. “The new company is again conducting countless private property tows that may be in question.” Adolf added that many vehicle owners have contacted her with questions about the new company and its efforts to tow vehicles from private property.<br /> <br /> Adolf’s frustration is echoed by other towers who feel that predatory towers are ruining the reputations of honest companies. “It is exactly these types of predatory towers that give the industry a black eye and cause new laws and regulations to be implemented,” explained Adolf. “One bad apple spoils the barrel!” Laws that are meant to discourage predatory towing and protect vehicle owners, said Adolf, are often used in a manner not originally intended.<br /> <br /> Rash mentioned the predatory towers who tow even when signs are not posted or make use of “invisible or disappearing signs. It’s baiting people,” she said. “Why these bad towers just don’t take the money and go down the road is beyond me. They have to get cash — which nowadays no one has on them — and they try to keep the cars to get an extra day of storage or other fees. It should be enough to just get the unwarranted tow bill and give people their cars back. But no, they have to pour salt on the wound.”<br /> <br /> Protecting Towers<br /> <br /> How do towers deal with angry vehicle owners who don’t understand why their vehicles have been towed away?<br /> <br /> Adolf and her drivers provide a printout of the vehicle code section pertaining to their tow. “I make every attempt to explain the laws and regulations to all vehicle owners to ensure they understand why they were towed,” said Adolf.<br /> <br /> Rash recommends that towing companies make use of video and still photography: “I had to have it on video to protect my folks,” she explained. “It has been a very good tool over many years. We take photos of each tow and we do our best to get the folks back on the road as quickly as possible with the least amount of hassle.” Rash makes heavy use of this visual documentation. Her drivers take photographs of each tow to protect the towers as well as the vehicle owners. “I have video of the customers and the lot,” said Rash. “We tell the customer that they are being videoed and we have a sign.” This watchfulness extends to Rash’s staff as well. “I will fire an employee over being rude to a customer, no matter what,” said Rash. “In more than one instance, the customer has said that my employee was rude but when I played the video back, the customer was the rude one.”<br /> <br /> Keep It Clean<br /> <br /> Rash defends business owners who are simply trying to keep their proper-Ty clean and in good working order.<br /> <br /> “You see trash and beer bottles scattered all around businesses that are located near nightclubs,” noted Rash.<br /> <br /> “People see no reason to find restrooms and instead just go wherever in parking lots nearby.” This requires the business to clean up its parking area every day, she said.<br /> <br /> Given this, added Rash, it’s only fair that businesses post “No Parking” signs and tow vehicles that appear on their lots illegally. “It’s cheaper than hiring someone to clean up every day,” she said, “and safer for the business so that it’s less apt to get burglarized.” It’s also important for towers to protect their businesses. One of Berry’s personal rules about towing draws a clear line of demarcation between personal and professional issues when towing a vehicle: “I don’t believe we should be involved in the why a vehicle is towed,” said Berry, “just how it’s towed and how it’s stored and how much it [costs].” Property owners, continued Berry, have the constitutional right to control access to their real estate. Towers are performing a contract service and need to be careful not to get embroiled in disputes.<br /> <br /> “It’s not a lot different from dealing with police impounds,” said Berry, “but it’s a little more personal.” Often the vehicle owner is having some type of problem with the property owner — a problem of which the tower is unaware until after the job is completed. Whether it’s a dispute over a parking space or a property line, Berry and his drivers stay out of the middle of those relationships as much as possible.<br /> <br /> No Patrols <br /> <br /> Another way that Berry keeps his private property towing services clearly defined is by not doing any patrolling.<br /> <br /> “I don’t think that’s something a tow company needs to be involved in,” he explained. “We provide a service to the property owner. When there’s a problem, we’re there and we’ll provide quick and efficient service that complies with the law.” Here again, Berry urges towers to stick to how a vehicle is towed, and not get involved in the why.<br /> <br /> For all of its difficulties, private property towing is a valuable service to clients who want to keep their real estate in good shape. “The good thing about doing private property tows is ultimately keeping order,” said Adolf.<br /> <br /> “Removing illegally parked vehicles and restoring order is necessary in many areas. When vehicle owners fail to read signs or knowingly park illegally, it creates havoc.” In the end, said Rash, it’s a simple matter of respect for other people’s property — and correcting the problem when someone fails to grant that respect.