Complaints lead state to rethink towing law


Sophomore fashion merchandising major Ashleigh Lentz (left) negotiates with a Kent city towing employee as her car is set up to be towed from Eagle’s Landing, Jan. 16, 2014. Lentz had to go to an ATM to get cash, since under current law, towing companies don’t need to accept credit cards.

Katherine Schaeffer

Sophomore fashion merchandising major Ashleigh Lentz panicked after she left her friend’s Eagles Landing apartment to find a tow truck idling in front of her car Jan. 16, 2014.

Lentz confronted the driver, who was about to tow her vehicle for unauthorized parking. He told her that if she paid him $45 in cash within the next five minutes, he would leave the car where it was.

But Lentz didn’t have cash. While a friend watched her car, she raced to the ATM downtown, anxious that she would find her car missing when she returned to the lot. Lentz arrived back in time, avoiding the tow and along with it, fees that would have amounted to at least double the $45 she paid.

“I’m glad I caught him when I did because it would have been more money,” Lentz said.

Since January 2010, the Ohio Attorney General’s office has received 229 complaints against towing companies all over the state. Complaints typically stemmed from towing companies overcharging, damaging vehicles during the course of the tow or towing without proper notification.

Those complaints dispute $108,142.40 in excessive fees and vehicular damage, but only $8,524.81 of this amount was returned to vehicle owners.

What Will House Bill 382 Do?

Prohibit towing companies from charging additional “administrative fees” not sanctioned in the Ohio Revised Code.

Require signs at tow-away zones that explicitly define which vehicles are allowed to park and at what times.

Implement a 24-hour “grace period” for overnight storage fees.

Cap the distance towed vehicles can travel at 15 miles if possible, or 25 miles maximum.

Make it illegal for towing companies to refuse to accept major credit cards, both at the storage facility and if caught in progress.

Order tow truck operators to photograph illegally parked vehicles prior to towing.

Tow truck drivers must notify vehicle owners of Ohio’s “Stop, Drop and Pay Half” policy, which gives vehicle owners who catch tow-truck operators mid-tow the right to pay half of the normal towing fee and have their vehicle released.

Require tow trucks to display business phone numbers on both sides of their trucks.

Provide the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) with rule-making authority to enforce the bill.

House Bill 382 would regulate towing in Ohio, forcing towing companies to adhere to a stricter set of guidelines and further clarifying illegal towing procedures. Among other restrictions, the bill will make it illegal for towing companies not to accept major credit cards.

State Representative Mike Duffey, R-Columbus, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said the bill’s goal is to reign in the predatory practices that some towing companies engage in. These practices deliberately take advantage of vehicle owners, and college students are especially likely to encounter them.

“I think that this is not the free market,” Duffey said. “This is not a normal vendor/consumer transaction where you choose your vendor, you choose to pay the price. This is an involuntary transaction, and they’re holding your vehicle hostage.”

Under the Ohio Revised Code, vehicle owners should not be charged more than $90 for a tow. But some tow truck operators also require vehicle owners to pay administrative fees, which are not authorized by law.

House Bill 382 would restrict the amount towing operators can charge for a tow, require them to accept credit cards and establish a maximum distance vehicles can be towed, among other regulations.

The bill reinforces that tow truck operators must follow Ohio’s “Stop, Drop and Pay Half” policy. If the vehicle owner catches the tow truck mid-tow, the owner is able to pay half the cost of the tow and have their vehicle released on the spot.

“The genesis of the bill, the core of it and the heart of it, is really about a good experiences for people,” Duffey said. “That when you get towed, it’s because, yes, you illegally parked, but you had plenty of notice, it was fair notice and accurate notice and explained fairly that you shouldn’t be there. You weren’t caught unaware, that it was a sneak attack, and we want the experience from when they start to be towed, to be a fair one.”

Gary Miller, who has worked at Plaza Towing in Kent for two years, said that often, towing companies have reasons for implementing policies that may seem unfair. Plaza, which tows primarily for the City of Kent, usually tows with the authority of the city or the police department.

“There’s a lot of requirements on our part,” Miller said. “You have to have so much insurance so if you’re towing a vehicle and something happens, the vehicle will be covered. If it falls off the hook, somebody hits you or if there’s any property damage. But normally, when we pick a vehicle up, the police look at it for any obvious damage.”

Miller said that some policies, like refusing to accept credit cards, often result from issues the company has dealt with in the past. Accepting credit cards from college students sometimes poses a problem when the credit card belongs to the student’s parents, who often don’t know their son or daughter has been towed and cancel the transaction, thinking it was made in error.

“Once we accept [the card], and slide it and everything’s approved, whoever owns the card or has access to the credit card, can walk out the door and call them and cancel it,” Miller said. “It happens enough that a lot of times we will not accept a credit card because they want to give just the number and not physically have a credit card to give us to run through the machine. It’s the truth. Once you get burnt a couple times, you don’t wanna go back and do it again.”

Contact Kathrine Schaeffer at [email protected].