How To Protect Yourself From Predatory And Illegal Towing

Illegal towing can be prevented

Summary & Quick Facts

  • Predatory towing refers to a combination of generally illegal and unethical practices used by some towing companies to maximize profits.
  • Tow companies and property owners make arrangements to tow vehicles off said property as quickly as possible.
  • Illegal towing uses a number of different strategies such as the use of spotters or “satellite” towing to tow more cars.
  • There are laws in place to protect drivers from predatory drivers in NYC
  • Tow companies can only charge a maximum of $125 for towing a vehicle.
  • Companies can only charge max $25 per day for the first three days of storage of a vehicle and $27 for the 4th day thereafter.
  • Victims of illegal towing practices should file complaints with The Department of Consumer Affairs or their local precinct.  

Careful Drivers, New York City Is A Tow-away Zone

As we mentioned in a previous article, NYC is a tow-away zone. Park in the wrong place and wrong time and you may not have a car for a bit. Nonetheless, it’s no wonder why people hate the tow. To make matters worse, lax federal and local laws sometimes allow unscrupulous companies to prey on motorists. Illegal towing and predatory towing practices are conducted by towing companies without the owner’s consent. Tow companies take advantage of this power and can overcharge and even damage vehicles. This is why knowing what constitutes predatory or illegal towing and the best way to protect yourself is crucial. 


What Is Predatory and Illegal Towing?

The term predatory towing refers to the illegal practices that some towing companies conduct with private property owners to profit by towing vehicles off properties as quickly as possible. The unfortunate car is taken to the towing company’s lot, and the owner of the vehicle must pay for the towing, the storage, and often other exorbitant fees.

Since the towing company makes more money when they tow more cars, illegal towing can be quite lucrative.  To increase their numbers, sometimes companies employ “spotters” to call the instant they see a parking violation. These spotters watch which lot a driver parks in and then verifies the particular business a driver goes into. If not the business of the lot, it’s a quick call to the towing company and a big headache for the driver. You will return to a car that’s become a ghost.

Another strategy of predatory towing involves “satellite” or “patrol” towing. That’s when a tow truck driver, on a tip from a spotter, tows a car that’s illegally parked on private property, such as the lot of an apartment complex or a no-parking area in a mall. When this happens, the car owner has to pay the cost of towing, storage, and other exorbitant fees to get their car back.


What’s the Law Around Illegal Towing

While predatory and illegal towing practices are clearly unfair, there are thankfully some protections for drivers. Simply put, no tow truck can just hook up a car and take it away. DCA rules have legal requirements for “nonconsensual towing.” In fact, these rules are actually quite specific.

For example, no tow truck operator can remove a vehicle from private property without first obtaining written authorization from the owner or agent of the property. Written documentation of the tow is key! No written authorization, no tow. Each written authorization must include the location, make, model, color and license plate of the car in question. The documentation must also include the name, title, and signature of the person authorizing the tow.

City law says tow companies servicing private parking lots can charge a maximum of $125 for towing and $25 per day for the first three days of storage of a vehicle. The fee jumps to  $27 per day for the fourth calendar day. If the owner of the vehicle arrives before the vehicle is removed from the property but after it is connected to the tow truck or still “on the hook”, the tow operator may not charge more than $50 to release the vehicle.


What Can You Do to Prevent Illegal Towing Practices

All tow truck drivers must carry a copy of the towing contract between his company and the property owner. If they don’t, you will definitely have an advantage should you fall victim to this practice. Nonetheless, you have the right to see that contract and the drivers have to show it to you. Do not be afraid to take a picture of the agreement for your records.

You should also go to the towing place of business and “Ask for a copy of the contract. Take a picture of the name of the property owner and any designated agents listed on the contract. And ask for a copy of the authorization to tow.  If you arrive while your car is being towed, you can get it “off the hook” on the spot by paying half of the towing fee. Every company is required to accept cash or at least two major credit cards. You’re also entitled to a receipt.

Can you call the police to intervene if any of these stipulations aren’t followed? You sure can. Private property or not, it’s the law.  Car owners should put complaints into Consumer Affairs or precinct if they fall victim to any illegal towing practices.


Have You Been A Victim Of Illegal Towing Practices?

If you feel like you’ve been improperly towed, you can call 311 or file a complaint online with the department of consumer affairs. Moreover, it’s important to keep all your receipts if you have them. If you have all the documentation, Consumer affairs can try to get you your money back.


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