Common Council reins in private towing fees

Bobby's Towing and Collision equipment

POUGHKEEPSIE – On Monday night the Common Council took the first step in overhauling the city’s towing ordinances.

The section of the existing law governed the towing or booting of vehicles “improperly parked on private property” which refers to cars parked on private property without the consent of the property owner.  There are exemptions that include a car that has been on private property for more than 24 hours, a vehicle on private property that blocks a driveway, a vehicle interfering with garbage or refuse collection, one that interferes with snow removal, or one that interferes with construction (provided a 24-hour notice was given).

Under the existing law, according to Councilman Chris Petsas, tow operators were using loopholes in the law “to come up with any price they want when they tow a car under those circumstances.”  Petsas continued to lobby for the support of his colleagues on the bill, saying “Right now we have people coming into Poughkeepsie being ripped off because we are not regulating these exemptions.”

The changes put forth by Petsas set the rates for the exemptions and put forth a standardized fee schedule.  The Petsas law would set the fees at $60 for a tow plus a hook-up fee of $25 plus any and all applicable taxes and a fee of $125 plus a $25 hook-up fee, plus taxes for vehicles towed under the exemptions in the law.  The law also requires that a $50 storage fee cannot be charged by the tow company until the vehicle has been in their possession for 24 hours.  Councilmember Yvonne Flowers applauded the storage amendment saying “Right now, a tow company starts charging $50 storage fees as soon as he brings the car to his storage yard.”

Mayor Rolison told the council that the proposed legislation is “Step one of a complete review of all towing ordinances and how they impact the city.”  Councilmember McNamara agreed with Rolison and added “I think that enforcement should be the second step and I also think that regulating the fee structure between private tow companies and the city needs to be addressed.  We need to charge the same across the board.  Either private comes down or the city goes up.”

The proposed changes passed the council unanimously and have drawn critical responses from two towing operators; Bobby’s Towing and Countywide Towing.  Bobby Scores, the owner of Bobby’s Towing decried the storage fee regulation saying “I still have to pay property taxes on my storage yard.  Is the city going to reduce my tax bill for providing free storage?  I doubt it.”  The city law also says that tow operators have to wait a period of twenty minutes before towing a car from private property.  “The city parking enforcement guys don’t wait twenty minutes before writing a parking ticket – why should we have to wait?”

Countywide Towing has contracts with several private parking lots and will be affected by the changes in the law.

Jules Lee, proprietor of Countywide Towing, is upset with the fee structure as well.  “The towing price of $85 isn’t going to work. If the towed the vehicle isn’t redeemed, a lien search has to completed along with DMV Search and this all costs money and time trying to track down the owner of the vehicle.”  Lee also indicated that the changes would have a negative impact on her livelihood.  “I have the truck insurance, the payroll, the maintenance of the trucks, the fuel, workman’s compensation, and any additional expenses that may occur.  The City isn’t taking any of these expenses into consideration.”

Corporation Counsel Paul Ackerman said that, under the revised law passed on Monday night, if a vehicle owner is charged a fee not in compliance with the ordinance, and they can prove it, the tow operator can be charged with a crime.  Ackerman noted that those charged erroneously need to bring the proof to the police department and file a complaint.

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