Thursday, November 30, 2006
Blacksburg officials consider new towing regulations
Residents will be able to weigh in on the proposed tightening of tow truck regulations.
Blacksburg Town Council will soon consider limiting towing fees and requiring tow truck drivers to provide photographic evidence of illegal parking, among other towing regulations.
But not before a newly formed Blacksburg Towing Advisory Board, including a representative from a much-maligned local towing company, reviews the changes.
Town Attorney Larry Spencer said Wednesday that he drafted the changes mostly in response to police concerns about the clarity of the current towing rules.
Officers, who can do little about such complaints unless they witness the incident, are sometimes caught in the middle between angry vehicle owners and tow drivers, Spencer said.
The Virginia General Assembly also this year expanded the powers of localities to regulate towing in their borders, including new penalties for tow drivers who violate the rules.
After reading the proposed ordinance changes, Brenton Strickler, owner of the Web site tektowsucks.com, said simply putting the rules in writing is helpful for students who sometimes don't understand how towing works.
But Strickler said more needs to be done to regulate 24-hour towing contracts between Blacksburg apartment complexes and tow companies.
TekTow, the company criticized on Strickler's site, is the predecessor to Valley Towing.
Valley Towing owner Gabe DiGiovanni will serve on the town's towing board along with Blacksburg police Capt. Sam Bishop and Blacksburg resident Devin Weller.
State law requires that local towing boards include a towing industry representative, Spencer said.
Strickler, a former Virginia Tech student who now lives in Richmond, created his Web site in 2002 after a run-in with a TekTow driver.
The site includes an online petition asking town council to revoke the company's business license.
DiGiovanni could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
On average, the university's legal services office fields a couple of towing complaints each month, according to attorney Bruce Phillips.
Phillips said earlier this year that he thinks local tow companies and some apartment complexes are "using every technicality they can" to tow students' cars.
The towing board will have its first meeting at 11 a.m. today at the Blacksburg Municipal Building.
Residents will have a chance to comment on the towing ordinance before council votes on any changes, Spencer said.
[BLACKSBURG DRAFT] TOWING ORDINANCE SUMMARY
Defines the terms "custodian," "decal-controlled parking area," "operator," "tow truck service" and "tow truck service storage yard."
12-801 Applicability of Article
(1) Applies to tows from privately owned lots/property at request of owner
of property without consent of vehicle owner.
(2) Applies to vehicles towed from
(3) Exempts public safety vehicles or vehicles when left temporarily because of wreck or emergency.
(1) Each day a violation continues constitutes a separate violation.
(2) Violations are a Class 2 misdemeanor (punishable by up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both).
12-803 Sign Requirements
(1) Sets out where signs must be posted, and specific wording for signs
(2) The size and appearance of the signs is specified.
(3) If towing occurs on a 24-hour basis, it must be stated on the sign or in a separate sign.
(4) Vehicles may be towed from fire lanes on private property if properly posted.
(5) Violation of ordinance to tow vehicles from property that doesn?t have proper signs.
12-804 Identification of Tow Trucks
(1) Trucks to display name, address, telephone number on both sides.
(2) Identification information to be in reflectorized letters at least 2" in height.
12-805 Release of Vehicle to Owner/custodian Prior to Tow
(1) Owner/custodian of vehicle may reclaim before tow whether or not fully hooked up if vehicle is still in the private parking area; if hooked up or in process, tow service may charge drop fee not to exceed $25.
(2) If owner/custodian cannot or refuses to pay drop fee, vehicle may be towed and basic fee charged; personal items may be removed from vehicle.
(3) Copy of § 12-805 must be provided to owner/custodian by tow truck operator when drop fee requested; upon payment, owner/custodian provided with itemized receipt; copy of receipt retained by tow service 1 year and made available for police inspection.
(4) Police may order vehicle release without immediate payment under certain circumstances (e.g., vehicle needed as evidence in a criminal case).
12-806 Police Notification
(1) Police dispatcher to be notified with specifics of tow/vehicle information no later than 30 minutes after tow.
(2) Tow truck service must relinquish vehicle to police without fees if notified by dispatcher/law enforcement officer that vehicle is subject to seizure.
(3) Failure to report constitutes traffic infraction punishable by fine not more than $100; in such case, the storage charge is limited to no greater than 1 day of storage.
12-807 Charges for Towing and Storage; Receipt Required
(1) Maximum fees
11,000 pounds or less - $100
11,001 pounds or more - $285
No extra fees for use of dolly, rollback or winching.
(2) No charge for storage for initial 24 hours; no more than $20 per 24-hour period or portion thereof after initial 24-hour period; delays caused by storage yard personnel not included when computing charges.
(3) If vehicle not redeemed within 7 days, additional fee not to exceed $50 may be charged for cost of search for registered owner/lienholder of vehicle.
(4) No extra fee for mileage, or towing between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., or towing on Saturday, Sunday or holidays, or any other fee in addition to basic towing fee.
(5) Payment to be accepted by cash, insurance company check, certified check, money order and at least 1 of 2 nationally recognized credit cards; change provided up to $100 for cash payments.
(6) Itemized receipt must be provided; copy to be retained by tow service for 1 year; receipts shall be available for inspection by police.
(7) Fees to be reviewed annually by towing advisory board; adjusted as necessary to reflect market conditions.
12-808 Requirements for Storage Yard
(1) Prominently displayed sign at least 24 inches in height and width specifying towing and storage fees.
(2) If attendant not on duly 24/7, sign must contain telephone contact information for manager/owner to facilitate reclamation of vehicle in minimum amount of time not to exceed 2 hours.
(3) Reasonable security and protection must be provided, including illumination during hours of darkness, as well as fence enclosure if no 24/7 attendant/security guard.
(4) During hours of darkness, illuminated area must be provided to enable owner/custodian to inspect vehicle prior to removal from storage yard.
(5) Tow truck service yard must be in full compliance with sign, security and lighting requirements and all applicable zoning regulations, licensing requirements and use permits.
12-809 Tow Truck Service Operator?s Log; Documentation of Reasons for Tow
(1) Within 30 minutes of hook-up, operator must make a record including make of model, year, vehicle ID (if known), license number, state, time, date and place of tow, name of tow truck operator; record to be retained for 1 year and be made available for inspection by police.
(2) Tow operator to make and retain photos or video recordings of vehicle in the location from which towed, the condition of the vehicle prior to tow and (to the extent available) other documentary evidence substantiating reasons for tow.
(3) Photos shall be digital or instant.
(4) Owner of vehicle towed entitled to view photos/video records without charge during normal business hours; tow truck service may charge reasonable costs for reproducing the photos or videos.
12-810 Miscellaneous Prohibited Acts by Tow Truck Service or Operator
Except when acting as an agent in the legal repossession of a vehicle, a tow truck service
or operator shall not:
(1) Tow a vehicle from a public street without consent of owner/custodian or authorization from police officer or other designated town official.
(2) Block movement of or tow or move a vehicle from a private road, driveway, or private land without the owner?s consent unless
(a) vehicle is parked in a designated decal parking space and is not displaying a decal or authorization issued by owner of parking area
(b) vehicle is parked in a designated parking space of a non-decal controlled parking area when business is open and written consent of parking area owner is obtained prior to tow
(c) vehicle is parked in non-decal controlled parking area when business is closed and towing is enforced 24-hours/day by such business
(d) vehicle is parked on any portion of parking area blocking ingress or egress to parking area, or access to dumpster or properly marked service or delivery area; or parked in area not specifically designated for parking.
No vehicle may be towed without a written contract between the tow truck service and the owner/lessee of the parking area (copy of contract to be in possession of tow truck operator) and compliance with all signage requirements.
(3) Block vehicle, other than when on tow truck service property, to prevent movement by owner/custodian.
(4) Wait for employment by standing or parking on public property.
(5) Tow or move vehicle utilizing uninsured tow truck.
(6) Provide false information to police dispatcher concerning towed vehicle.
(7) Require owner/custodian to wait more than 2 hours for release of vehicle.
(8) Move towed vehicle to an intermediate place of storage unless specifically requested by owner/custodian.
(9) During initial 24-hour period and upon owner/custodian request, deny/prevent access to vehicle for removal of personal items; after initial 24-hour period refuse to allow access to vehicle once a day between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
(10) Assess or collect a charge or fee in excess of or in addition to fees authorized.
(11) Fail to provide receipt.