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Monday, November 17, 2008

NY's New Predatory Towing Law In Effect

From the Farmingdale Observer:

New State Law Protects Drivers from Predatory Towing Practices

A new state law went into effect last month protecting drivers from predatory towing practices such as hiding no-parking signs and paying kick-backs to parking lot owners to tow cars from their lots. State Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg and Oyster Bay Town Clerk Steve Labriola announced the new law, which was sponsored by Fuschillo and Weisenberg.

"Far too often, people have returned to a parking lot to find their car missing, only to discover that it was towed because they parked in an area without obviously visible tow warning signs" said Fuschillo, chairman of the Senate Committee on Consumer Protection. "This new law will help end these predatory practices and require parking lot owners and tow companies to be up-front and honest about their policies."

Weisenberg said, "In my own district, I have personally seen people have their cars unjustly held hostage by predatory towers with little choice other than to pay cash on the spot or have their car taken away, without any apparent justification or recourse. I am pleased that our Long Island delegation worked together in a bipartisan fashion to enact these new consumer protections and improve our quality of life."

Predatory towing has been a problem for many New York State motorists, according to Fuschillo. He also said that some tow companies have lured drivers to forbidden parking areas that do not have adequate 'no parking' signs. Others have used spotters equipped with binoculars and walkie-talkies to summon tow trucks at a moment's notice. Some tow companies have also paid kick-backs to parking lot owners who give them exclusive rights to tow cars from their lots.

Town Clerk Labriola stated, "These modern day parking lot pirates plunder the vehicles of unsuspecting motorists. This law supports legitimate towing operators by enabling law enforcement to effectively combat this corrupt behavior. No longer will kickbacks or fee splitting between lot owners and towing companies act as an incentive. These are common sense measures protecting consumers and go a long way in reforming this industry and protecting the public. I am pleased that we could work together to curb this practice of predatory towing."

The new law (S. 2360-D, chapter 328) requires private lots to conspicuously post signs stating that unauthorized vehicles will be towed at the owner's expense. The signs must identify the tower who removed the vehicle and the address where it can be reclaimed. Under the prior law, parking lots were only required to have signs stating the name and address of the property owner and the name of the towing company authorized to tow from the lot. There was no requirement that signs had to be conspicuously posted and the signs did not have to warn people that unauthorized vehicles will be towed at owner's expense or include contact information where people could reclaim their cars.

In addition, private lot owners are now prohibited from accepting kick-backs or sharing in any proceeds earned by towing companies that tow from their lot. Local governments are also allowed to enact their own stricter laws to combat predatory towing.

Under the new law, the State Attorney General is also given the power to stop businesses from performing such practices and seek civil damages under the new law and courts may impose a civil penalty of between $50 and $1,000 for each violation.

In March 2006, Massapequa resident Melissa Maltese's car was towed within minutes of parking it at an unattended Hicksville commuter lot. To get her car back, she had to pay $150 in cash.

"I was shocked when I returned to the parking lot and my car was gone," said Maltese. "I had to walk halfway across the lot before I saw a no parking sign. This new law will help protect New York drivers from these unfair practices."

Bruce Goldblatt, owner of Bill's Towing, said, "I've seen other tow companies engage in all kinds of aggressive practices including overcharging, no receipts, poor signage as well as parking lot owners who take kick-backs from tow operators. These predatory practices give our industry a bad name. This new law will help curb these tactics."

Local governments will also be allowed to enact their own regulations to combat predatory towing in addition to the state law. The State Attorney General will also be empowered to stop businesses from performing such practices and seek civil damages under the law.

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