For many of our customers, especially those of common interest developments, apartment complexes and businesses, parking issues rank as one of the top headaches and problems to contend with. However, when considering towing actions as a remedy, many of our customers become nervous at that prospect. And that’s totally understandable. Towing someone’s vehicle is one of the most invasive actions one can take, not to mention the costs the owner of the vehicle incurs as a result. Towing should always be a last result; however, without towing as a final ring in the enforcement protocol, your parking policy will likely never have the teeth or legitimacy it commands.
Luckily, California’s Vehicle Code heavily regulates private property impounds. There are a number of hoops that need to be negotiated before a private property impound can legally take place. Those hoops are not imposing, and not meant to intimidate a community or business from towing vehicles that violate parking regulations; rather, they are present to protect both the owner of the property and the owner of the vehicle who is purportedly in violation.
What provisions must be in place before a vehicle can be removed from private property?
In addition to the authority your CC&R’s and/or Parking Regulations provide in regards to enforcing parking violations in your community or business, the California Vehicle Code (22658a) allows towing on private property to occur in any of the following circumstances:
- Signage is posted at each entrance, adhering to specific size requirements, that public parking is forbidden and unauthorized vehicles will be towed away. In this scenario, the owner of the property will have a written general towing agreement with a towing company, and the signage must contain the towing company and local law enforcement contact information. (22658(a)(1) CVC); OR,
- A vehicle has been given a notice of parking violation, and 96 hours have elapsed since the notice was issued. (22658(a)(2) CVC). This means that the owner or owner’s agent of the property may place a warning or tow notice on the vehicle in question, articulate the parking violation, and wait 96 hours from the date and time that the vehicle was ticketed. If the vehicle remains in violation after the 96 hours have elapsed, it can legally be towed; OR,
- The vehicle in question lacks an engine, transmission, tires, or any other component that would make it unsafe to drive on a public road or highway, and law enforcement has been notified 24-hours prior to the towing action. (22658(a)(3) CVC)
Take note that a vehicle can be towed under ANY one of the aforementioned circumstances. Many mistakenly interpret the Vehicle Code to require all of those elements to be in place before a vehicle can be removed from private property.
Who must be present when a vehicle is being towed from private property?
The owner or owner’s agent of the property must be present to verify the parking violation and authorize and sign for the towing action. (22658(l)(1)(A) CVC). This means that if you employ a security/parking monitoring service, they can function as an agent for your property and sign for the tow on your behalf. This is beneficial so owners, managers, or board members are not personally involved in towing actions that can sometimes be confrontational and dangerous.
What if the owner of the vehicle comes out while the vehicle is in the process of being hooked up to the tow truck?
- Upon the request of the owner of the vehicle or the owner’s agent, the towing company or its driver shall immediately and unconditionally release a vehicle that is not yet removed from the private property and in transit. (22658(g)(1)(B) CVC). Prior to the towing laws being reformed several years ago, tow truck drivers were able to charge a “drop fee” before they would release a vehicle that had already been hooked and still on the property to its owner. Today, towing agencies can no longer mandate a drop fee to release a vehicle. Notwithstanding, a towing agency may still impose a fee to the vehicle’s owner and pursue its collection by other means.
- A towing company may impose a charge of not more than one-half of the regular towing charge for the towing of a vehicle at the request of the owner, the owner’s agent, or the person in lawful possession of the private property if the owner of the vehicle or the vehicle owner’s agent returns to the vehicle after the vehicle is coupled to the tow truck by means of a regular hitch, coupling device, drawbar, portable dolly, or is lifted off the ground by means of a conventional trailer, and before it is removed from the private property. The regular towing charge may only be imposed after the vehicle has been removed from the property and is in transit. (22658(h) CVC)
Note: The Vehicle Code is silent as to how the towing company can collect the charges associated with releasing a vehicle in the process of being towed; rather, it just mentions the towing company MAY attempt to do so.
What if the vehicle is damaged while it is in the process of being towed?
The Vehicle Code requires the towing company to be responsible for damages made to any vehicle that is being towed from private property (22658(f)(1) CVC)
When towing a vehicle in accordance with 22658(a)(1), the Vehicle Code requires towing signs at each entrance to be, “not less than 17 inches by 22 inches in size, with lettering not less than one inch in height, prohibiting public parking and indicating that vehicles will be removed at the owner’s expense, and containing the telephone number of the local traffic law enforcement agency and the name and telephone number of each towing company that is a party to a written general towing authorization agreement with the owner or person in lawful possession of the property. The sign may also indicate that a citation may also be issued for the violation.”
General Towing Authorizations
The Vehicle Code in California allows for owners of private property to enter into General Towing Authorizations with towing companies. These agreements permit a towing agency to randomly patrol the property and tow, at its agents’ discretion, any vehicles that are parked in designated fire lanes, in front of fire hydrants, or vehicles that interfere with ingress/egress to and from the property. Entering into these types of agreements permits a towing agency to tow without the owners’ specific authorization.
Many of our customers often elect not to participate in such agreements; rather, they only authorize property owners, managers, board members or their contracted security service to authorize such towing actions.
Before signing any towing agreements, ensure you have a clear understanding as to the circumstances in which the tow company may enter your property and tow a vehicle. Read the entire document before signing.
Note: If you, as a property owner or agent of a property, including boards of directors, allow discretionary towing by a towing agency without having an active, written towing agreement with that tow agency, you and your property’s agents can be prosecuted for a misdemeanor and be liable for fines up to $2,500 and imprisonment up to three (3) months in the county jail.
Dispelling False Notions
We often receive reviews, comments and accusations that security companies are in cahoots with towing companies and receive kickbacks for providing towing opportunities to them. Due to California’s stringent regulation of towing and penalties for misconduct, such arrangements are virtually nonexistent since the laws were reformed. Our company, North Coast Patrol, has been in business for almost 20 years and has never taken a kickback or had any formal or informal agreements for kickbacks for towing actions we have authorized on our customers’ behalf.
Employing towing into your enforcement protocol will in most cases strengthen the legitimacy of your parking policy. Parking policies that work the best are those that aren’t overly complicated and burdensome to enforce. When crafting a policy, be thoughtful, be reasonable, and keep it simple.
This website is not intended to be, and you should not rely on any materials on this blog as, a source of legal advice. Postings to this web site have been prepared for informational purposes only. If you have specific legal questions, please pose them to your attorney.