Over a three-year period, 3,000 cars disappeared from a lot near downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla., not too far from my home, according to a recent investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. (1) always ready towing
At another lot, in Broward County’s vast Sawgrass Mills shopping complex, 300 people returned to empty parking spots on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) in 2011.
The problem is serious, and it has spurred residents and local officials to action. But the issue isn’t car thieves; it is towing companies using predatory tactics to jack up profits. The cars that were removed were all in violation of at least minor parking restrictions and were legally, if not reasonably, towed.
Private property owners have every right to decide who can park on their property and under what conditions. They can set hours for parking, reserve spaces for their own customers, and even prohibit certain methods of parking, such as backing into spaces. They can also take action to enforce their rules.
In some situations, such as when an improperly parked vehicle blocks the entrance to a lot or causes a safety hazard, prompt towing is the most responsible course. But while property owners’ ultimate interest is simply maintaining their property, that’s not the case for towing companies that enter into agreements to tow offending vehicles. Towing companies want to remove as many vehicles as they can, whether towing is reasonable under the circumstances or not.
One common approach is for the tow companies to hire “spotters,” who patrol lots and report violations, relieving property owners of inconveniences they haven’t yet noticed. When the tow trucks arrive, they work fast. With the help of some lock-picking tools, one Fort Lauderdale towing company removed a pair of improperly parked cars in no more than 90 seconds, the Sun-Sentinel reported. (1)
Once towing companies have a vehicle in their grip, they can essentially hold it for ransom, demanding whatever the law allows before they release their prey. Washington State Rep. Gerry Pollett, who sponsored legislation to combat such so-called “predatory towing” practices in Seattle, reported hearing from constituents who had “been towed and charged from $500 up to $2,000 to get their car back after a simple parking mistake.”