CAROLINA BEACH—The risks of parking illegally in most municipalities can include towing, fines, and immobilization devices used to prevent drivers from moving until a fine is paid. But what happens when vehicles are towed from places they are legally parked?
While it seems unlikely, there are companies that have been accused of so-called predatory towing practices. These include towing vehicles that are legally parked, and charging exceptionally high rates for towing and storage when vehicles park on private property.
As it turns out, it is difficult to prevent these predatory towing practices, and resolving the issues if it does happen can be time-consuming and potentially costly.
In 2014, the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down an attempt by Charlotte to cap towing fees — that’s made it hard for other municipalities, like Carolina Beach, to address the issue.
“State law prevents a municipality from establishing ordinances designed to curb or limit the towing of illegally parked vehicles … I reached out to the City of Raleigh’s town clerk who provided me with their ordinance—somewhat vague—which addressed towing of vehicles from town-owned property. Even here, there’s limits on what a municipality can do,” Mayor of Carolina Beach Joe Benson said.
During the last Town Council meeting’s public comment portion, one resident spoke regarding what he described as “illegal” and “predatory” towing practices by a company operating in Carolina Beach. The town attorney will be discussing possible solutions during a Town Council workshop on Tuesday, June 26.
According to Captain Humphries of the Carolina Beach Police Department, the towing of vehicles off private property is not monitored by the police.
“We do not track private towing by tow companies. We are only notified through the 9-1-1 system that a vehicle has been towed so we do not initiate a stolen vehicle report, Humphries said.
ACCORDING TO CAROLINA BEACH POLICE, SOME TOWING COMPANIES HAVE GONE AS FAR AS TO REMOVE A VEHICLE’S PARKING PASS — AND THEN TOW IT FOR PARKING WITHOUT ONE.
“The town does not tow abandoned vehicles unless the vehicle is on public property. Then we have a certain tow company who does that towing at the (police department’s) request. We do have ordinances (that) tow companies who do contract towing from condos or private associations must comply with as it comes to signage, storage and return of towed vehicles to owners and violators,” he continued.
According to Humpries, some towing companies have gone as far as to remove parking passes from vehicles and then tow it for failure to provide a parking pass. However, in order to have any sort of remedy, the actions must be observed. Otherwise, the only action if a vehicle is towed unjustly is civil court.
“If a person is towed by any company and they feel they have been a victim, their recourse is civil. If we see a tow truck driver take a pass out of a vehicle or remove it so they can tow the vehicle we would stop them and either issue a criminal summons or obtain a warrant for their arrest for larceny. I have heard of this practice in the past and observed it once,” Humphries said.
There have been several complaints against towing companies in the town, and there have been civil remedies offered if the company was in violation of town code.
“In the past few years, there have been complaints about … tow companies. We have issued civil penalties against those companies if they are in violation of a town ordinance. Some of the companies have pulled out of Carolina Beach and no longer have towing contracts,” Humphries said.
This story originally ran here at Port City Daily.