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New analysis of towing laws shows only 16 states ban kickbacks to property owners or law enforcement
BOSTON -- Driving is picking up again as the number of Americans heading to social gatherings, in-person work and vacations moves closer to pre-pandemic norms. More driving means more parking – maybe in unfamiliar areas.
Parkers have always run the risk of getting towed. But a new trend exacerbates that risk: Towing companies are giving private property owners kickbacks when the landowner notifies the companies about vehicles to tow -- whether the vehicle is defying parking regulations or not. Our new analysis, Getting Off the Hook of a Predatory Tow Part II, an update to our comprehensive 2021 report on towing protections in every state, finds that 16 states currently ban kickbacks, as others are considering such laws.
“Banning kickbacks should be a no-brainer,” said Deirdre Cummings, Consumer Program Director for MASSPIRG Education Fund. “Kickbacks give people incentives to get vehicles that aren’t breaking any rules towed. Why would we incentivize that?”
While no state has passed new consumer protections against predatory towing in the last year, Massachusetts, Colorado and other states are considering new laws. And there has been progress at the local level, where municipalities like Boston are considering and passing more laws against these abusive practices. The Boston proposal, Ordinance Regulating Predatory Towing Practices and Establishing a Towing Bill of Rights (Docket #0901) was introduced by Councilors Breadon and Edwards, and they are in the process of refiling the measure this year.
“Every state can -- and should -- do more to protect drivers from predatory towing. It is fantastic that Senator Brownsberger has filed a bill strengthening our consumer protections in Massachusetts.” said Cummings. “The stories we’ve heard over the last year from consumers who’ve had to pay exorbitant fees or whose cars are towed to a lot an hour away are shocking. Until more states pass protections, we need cities to continue to plug the gaps.”
Overall, 13 states still don’t require a towing company to even notify the vehicle owner or driver that their car has been towed or where it’s being stored, so many people, returning to find their car gone, might think it was stolen. And 46 of the 50 states don’t require a towing company to photograph the vehicle before it’s towed, to document the claimed violation.
“Towing regulations should make sense innately,” Cummings said. “It’s OK if drivers face consequences for parking improperly on someone else’s property, but no one deserves to be wrongfully towed, or face unfair fees or other abusive practices even if the tow was justified.”
Click HERE for Getting Off the Hook of a Predatory Tow Part II.
Click HERE for our guide: “Getting off the Hook of a Predatory Tow.
In Massachusetts, here are the key towing provisions:
- In the case of an involuntary or police-ordered tow from private property, Massachusetts towing companies can charge a maximum towing rate of $108.
- In the case of an involuntary tow, Massachusetts towing companies can charge a maximum storage rate of $35 per 24-hour period.
- After removing a vehicle, the tow company must notify law enforcement of the towing.
- If the vehicle owner returns before their car is towed, the tower must release it for a drop fee no greater than half of the intended towing cost.
- If a vehicle tow is proven illegal, the towing company must release the vehicle to the owner without charging for removal or storage.
Improvements needed to Massachusetts statewide towing law:
- Towing companies should display their rates on tow-away signs and at their storage facilities.
- Towing companies must be required to accept payment via credit card.
- Private property owners must display “tow-away” signs that are clearly visible from an area where a car may be towed.
- Towing companies must take a photograph of the car before moving it from its original location.
- Towing companies must provide itemized bills.
- If your vehicle is damaged during the towing or in the storage process, the towing company must reimburse the owner.
- Towing companies must be prohibited from paying kickbacks to property owners, parking employees or law enforcement in exchange for referring or recommending tows.
Towing complaints can be made with:
Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Transportation Oversight Division, https://www.mass.gov/forms/file-a-complaint-against-a-bus-moving-or-towing-company
Attorney General: Consumer Complaints, https://www.mass.gov/how-to/file-a-consumer-complaint
Click HERE for Massachusetts’ full list of protections.
Click HERE for state-by-state protections and consumer tips on what to do if your car is towed.
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