By the time you get down to stories about people having their cars towed away from their own driveways – and yes, this has happened, and people have gone public about it, as you’ll read – you’ve got to figure that putting some fencing around patrol towing would be a political no-brainer.
Took a while, but today that point seems to have arrived at the Oregon Legislature, as House Bill 2578 is moving from committee toward House floor. This will be an ongoing fight; a substantial business group is seeing something of significance here, and they will fight.
What it does, most basically:
Requires owner of parking facility to affix notice on vehicle
prior to contacting tower to remove vehicle.
Requires tower to contact owner of parking facility before
towing motor vehicle from facility.
Requires tower to release motor vehicle free of charge if owner
or operator of vehicle is present at time of tow.
Provides sanctions for applicant for or holder of towing
business certificate who has accepted or provided compensation
based on number of vehicles towed.
Sean Cruz, a former state Senate staffer who has been working on this for years, and helped push through some preliminary regulation. Indications have been that those efforts only dented predatory towing, hence the new. In February he posted his testimony on the new measure (he supports it) and makes some points not often heard. Consider this one:
“Unlike any other commercial activity in Oregon, patrol towing creates a direct burden on local police resources, paid for entirely by the taxpaying general population. This burden begins when the tow driver calls the police to report that he is towing a certain vehicle. Then there is the second call to the police, coming either when the vehicle owner finds her vehicle gone and is reporting it stolen, or when the vehicle owner returns to her vehicle and finds some surly stranger with a tow truck hooking it up. This driver is fully aware that either money changes hands at this moment, or he is wasting his time, about to drive off with an empty wallet. The third burden on police resources comes when at least one officer is called to the scene, and then anything can happen or might have already happened.”
And the horror stories continue:
“In the last interim, Senator [Avel] Gordly’s office received a call from a constituent in East Multnomah County, requesting our urgent assistance. A patrol tow company was about to auction off a vehicle that belonged to a person who was a patient in the Oregon State Hospital. The towers claimed that the owner owed them $ 2000 in storage fees, accrued since the time they had towed the vehicle from a hospital parking lot. The young man had gone to the hospital for a medical appointment, parked his car in the lot, but suffered a psychotic episode there and was taken directly to the State Hospital, where he continued to reside. He had no intention of parking there over the limit, and hospital personnel would certainly have not made towing their first choice, if they had a role in authorizing the tow.”
And, of course, Cruz’ own:
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In March 2005, an absentee neighboring property owner, Hacienda Community Development Corporation, began employing tow companies to patrol the small parking area that serves two triplexes that it owns on a flag lot behind my home.
I park my vehicles on my own property, adjacent to the lot.
I learned about the patrol towing contract the day after the tow company posted its signs in the lot, when I woke up that Saturday morning to find both of my vehicles gone. There was no prior notification by any party to the contract, either to the neighborhood or to the tenants themselves.
I called the number posted on the signs. The tow company affirmed that they had indeed stolen my vehicles and that I could pay just under $400 to get them back that day, or I could wait until Monday if I wanted to talk to a manager. I called the property manager, who did not answer their phone. I tracked down Hacienda’s board chair, who informed me that I should either call the police or wait until Monday. I called the police.
A police officer came to my home, looked at my plat and confirmed that my parking area was my own private property. He then drove to the patrol tower’s lot to request the release of my vehicles, but the patrol towers refused to do so.
Eventually, later that day, after a number of phone calls, including more conversations with the police officer, the towers did release the vehicles. At first, they could not find one of my vehicles, although they knew that they had it.
The following Monday, as I was arriving here for work at the state Capitol, I learned that the towers had returned and taken one of the vehicles for a second time.
My absentee-landlord neighbor’s patrol towers have trespassed on my property and towed my vehicle four times—so far—and broken my transmission in the process.