Current law requires a towing carrier (carrier) to notify law enforcement, within 30 minutes after towing an abandoned vehicle, of the carrier's name and the storage location and description of the vehicle. The bill clarifies that the carrier is deemed to have complied if:
- The carrier gave the location of the storage facility to law enforcement when obtaining authorization for the tow; or
- The carrier made 2 or more attempts within the 30 minutes after the tow to notify a law enforcement agency but was unsuccessful for reasons beyond the control of the carrier.
When a carrier tows a vehicle without the owner's or lienholder's consent, current law requires the carrier to notify the department of revenue, the owner, and the lienholder of the tow between 2 and 10 days after the tow, thus imposing a 2-day waiting period before notification. The bill repeals this waiting period and instead requires notice within 10 days after the tow. The carrier is authorized to use a telephone to notify the owner or lienholder. Current law also denies the carrier daily storage fees if the carrier fails to reasonably notify the owner and lienholder. The bill forbids daily storage fees until the carrier has sent the required notice to the owner and lienholder.
The bill requires that carriers that are towing a vehicle from private property without the owner's, operator's, or lienholder's consent:
- Charge the same fees for tows made without the owner's consent as the carrier charges for tows made with the owner's consent. These fees must be filed with the public utilities commission (PUC) and posted at the carrier's storage location.
- Accept cash and major credit cards, as defined by rule of the PUC, and, upon request, disclose the accepted forms of payment;
- Not charge storage fees for a day on which the carrier did not store the vehicle;
- Before connecting to a vehicle, photographically document the vehicle's condition and the reason for the tow. Failure to produce documentation of the vehicle's condition or the reason for the tow creates a rebuttable presumption that any damages to the vehicle were caused by the carrier or that the tow was not authorized.
- Maintain an area at each storage facility with lighting adequate to inspect a vehicle for damage;
- Upon demand of the owner, retrieve the vehicle or the contents of the towed vehicle or allow the owner to retrieve the vehicle or the contents;
- Obtain authorization from the property owner, leaseholder, or common interest community within 24 hours before towing a vehicle from private property;
- Give 24 hours' written notice before removing a vehicle from a parking spot or the common areas of a condominium, cooperative, apartment, or mobile home park;
- Upon request, provide evidence of the carrier's insurance coverages;
- Have a sign at storage facilities that states the name, telephone number, and hours of operation of the carrier's business;
- Upon request, provide an itemized bill showing each charge and the rate for each fee that the person has incurred;
- Give a written notice of the ability to make a complaint to the PUC;
- To perform a nonconsensual tow, other than for an abandoned motor vehicle, from private property normally used for parking, the property owner must have provided adequate signs communicating the parking regulations that subject a vehicle to being towed; and
- Unless ordered by a peace officer, not tow a vehicle from private property because the rear license plate shows the vehicle registration is expired.
A carrier's mechanic's lien is abolished if the carrier tows a vehicle from private property without the owner's, operator's, or lienholder's consent.
If a carrier fails to comply with the provisions of the bill, the carrier may not charge or retain any fees or charges for the services performed with respect to the vehicle and must return any fees it collected with respect to the vehicle. It is an affirmative defense in any action to collect towing fees that the carrier failed to comply with these provisions. If a carrier damages a vehicle or violates these provisions in a manner that causes damages and refuses to reimburse the owner, operator, or lienholder, the owner or lienholder may recover attorney fees.
The carrier and an owner or lienholder may use mediation to resolve disputes involving nonconsensual tows. Any mediated agreement may be submitted to the office of tow hearings (office), which is created in the bill, and a court, both of which are authorized to enforce the agreement.
The office is created within the PUC to adjudicate disputes between carriers and owners or lienholders when a vehicle is towed from private property without the owner's or lienholder's consent. The office will employ hearing officers or use administrative law judges to govern proceedings and to hold hearings to determine whether a carrier violated the law or caused damages. The office may order carriers to reimburse owners or lienholders, and this reimbursement may include attorney fees. The final actions of the office are subject to judicial review in accordance with the "State Administrative Procedure Act".
Carriers are required to record certain information about each nonconsensual tow, retain the information in their records for 3 years, and produce the records within 48 hours upon request.
A carrier is prohibited from paying money or other valuable consideration to a landowner or business for the privilege of nonconsensually towing vehicles.
It is a deceptive trade practice to violate the provisions of the bill, and the attorney general is responsible for enforcement.
(Note: This summary applies to this bill as introduced.)