Was your car towed illegally?
Ask a Lawyer!
Did you park your car and come back later to find it gone? Towed? Were you stuck with towing and storage fees?
There are strict laws about towing – both when it can happen, and how much a tow company can charge you. If a tow company breaks the law, you can fight back.
Was your car towed illegally?
When you leave your car in a parking garage or a parking lot, the owner cannot legally have your car towed unless they give you fair notice beforehand.
|Notice can come in one of three forms:
Without proper notice, a tow may be illegal, and you can bring a legal challenge later.
Where can you find a towed car?
When your car is towed, it can only be taken to a licensed vehicle storage facility. If the lot owner has signs posted, the signs should have a phone number you can call to locate your car.
If there aren’t any signs, you can find your car by calling the local police department – storage facilities must report new cars to the local police. Storage facilities must also mail a written notice to the registered owner within 5 days of receiving the car, which is useful if the owner was not the driver.
If the owner doesn’t claim the car within 30 days, the storage facility can auction it.
What can you be charged?
The City of Austin strictly defines the fees that a driver can be charged when their car is towed.
First, in Austin, if you find the driver while he is hitching up your car, you’re entitled to ask him to release your car, without charge. If you catch the driver after your car is hitched up but before he leaves, then you are still entitled to have your car to be put down but the driver can charge you $50.
If the car gets to a vehicle storage facility, the facility doesn’t have to release it until you pay the applicable fee, which will be close to $200 almost immediately — $150 for the tow, a $20 impound fee, and a $20 storage fee. Fees in facilities outside of Austin might be higher.
If a storage facility charges more than what the law permits, then it has broken the law, and you can bring a legal challenge later.
What can you do about an illegal tow?
If you want to challenge a tow you believe was illegal, you have three options.
First, both tow companies and vehicle storage facilities are regulated by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. If you believe they broke the law, you can file a complaint with the agency. You can also file complaints with the Austin Police Department.
Second, the law allows an expedited legal proceeding – you can request a tow hearing from a Justice of the Peace. You must visit the court to request a hearing within 14 days of the tow, and the court is supposed to schedule a hearing within 21 days of your request. If the Justice of the Peace agrees the tow was unlawful, then they can order the tow company to reimburse your charges.
Finally, you can also sue a towing company, parking facility, or storage facility that breaks the law. You can get extra money damages if you sue and can show they knew they were breaking the law. You should consult a local attorney or legal aid office about your options.