Pollet’s bill to end predatory towing charges passes Legislature

Monday, April 15, 2013

Rep. Gerry Pollet D-46
A bill sponsored by Democratic 46th District State Rep. Gerry Pollet that would end predatory towing charges has passed the Legislature.

Pollet says that the bill is a response to towing companies’ charging $1,000 to $2,000 for people to get their cars back after parking in the wrong spots or lots.

He said Friday that the bill would give Washington the strongest state law against predatory towing in the nation.

The bill, which earlier had passed the State House of Representatives, 91-7, passed the Senate unanimously Friday.

Pollet said that people who had been unable to pay to get their cars back often would lose their cars.

He said the bill would end “sky is the limit” costs for towing from private lots.

“A mother shouldn’t have to choose between being able to pay rent or paying a towing company to get the family car back after making a simple parking mistake,” Pollet said. “We documented people being charged more to get their cars back than a court could fine them if they had been convicted of a misdemeanor crime, but parking in the wrong spot isn’t a crime.”

Pollet noted that both the City of Seattle and the Towers and Recovery Association supported the bill, even though they are in court over a Seattle ordinance seeking to set a similar cap on towing rates for private lots. He said that, for most tows within Seattle, the difference between the City ordinance and the statewide cap would likely be $3.

While state law has a rate set by the State Patrol for tows from along highways based on a cost study, current law allows a towing company to charge whatever it wants.

Under House Bill 1625, an in-city tow of 45 minutes, including half-day storage, should cost only $213 for someone to get a car back. Most in-city tows take less than 45 minutes, and often only 30 minutes.

The bill sets private property tows at 135 percent of the State Patrol rate. The State Patrol rate is based on the cost for an easy freeway tow, such as where the car is easy to pull up to, whereas impounded cars are always there when the Patrol calls for a tow. Tows from private lots are often more difficult and take more time than from a highway shoulder.

It will be illegal for a towing company to charge for two or more hours for a tow that takes 30 or 45 minutes, as was the case in one infamous case for a tow that cost $800, written about by columnist Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times.

Pollet said that a rate cap is needed because we have a classic case of market failure – there is no willing “buyer” to negotiate or seek the best rate when your car is towed from a private lot.

He said that the problem requiring this legislative fix arises because decades ago, the Legislature allowed towing companies to charge any rate they wished, so long as they filed the rate with the Department of Licensing.

Pollet explained this motivation to protect consumers from predatory towing:

“I first became concerned with predatory towing companies before I became a legislator after an incident when I came out from picking up one of my children from child care. A mom had parked and run in to pick up her children in order to avoid the $10 a minute fine for being late to pick up. When we came out, her car had been towed by a predatory towing company. There we stood, with three children, no car seats for 2 of them, and having to go pay to retrieve the car. It cost hundreds of dollars.
“No parent or anyone else should face the choice of a month’s rent or mortgage payment to get back their car which they need to pick up their children or get to work.
“After I introduced HB 1625, I was contacted by scores of people who have been towed and charged from $500 up to $2,000 to get their cars back after a simple parking mistake.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

Pollet represents the 46th Legislative District, including Lake Forest Park, Kenmore and northeast Seattle.


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