Parking issues are always a subject that pops up in the monthly HOA meeting. Whether it be the fact that there are not enough guest spots, or too many people parked in the street, this issue draws the ire of the board, and the passion of the residents. There are no easy answers, and once the tow company gets involved, there are a lot of other factors to consider.
For a vehicle to be towed from a community governed by a homeowners’ association, there are many hoops that have to be passed through beforehand. First, the security guard (or whoever makes the initial complaint about the vehicle) must provide the owner of the vehicle with an opportunity to move their car “out of harms way.” If that is not successful, normally they are given a written warning. If that does not work, then they bring in the tow company.
“There is no requirement in the county towing ordinance or the state law for the HOA to provide an advance warning before a vehicle is towed” stated Dennis Moore, director of the Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs Division. ” As a Consumer Protection agency we certainly prefer to see this procedure, but it is not mandated by the government. Obviously, the HOA should have clear and concise rules that are well known by all residents. “
This is where it becomes more complicated. The towing company must be fully licensed. The company must inform the property manager whenever they tow the car, and the property manager must then inform the homeowner. The process varies from community to community, but this is the basic idea.
In a statement given to the Palm Beach Post, Moore stated that “predatory towing is an issue probably nationwide and government is always trying to be more effective at reducing that behavior.” Moore said that his agency routinely fields complaints about local tow agencies, which he described as a natural result of the companies’ confrontational work.
On July 8th, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant on King’s Wrecker Service, which is located in the 6700 block of Wallis Road in suburban West Palm Beach. According to the Sun-Sentinel, it does not look like any tow truck operators illegally towed properly parked cars. Instead, deputies said they are investigating allegations that towing companies violated proper procedures, such as towing cars from private communities without properly notifying property managers or towing in places where signs were not properly posted. The law regarding placement of towing signs, as well as how long the signs must be posted before a car can be legally removed, can be found on the Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs division website.
“As far as I know the Sheriff’s Department has not made a determination as to whether vehicles on the property of King’s Wrecker were they illegally or not,” Moore added. “The Sheriff’s Office apparently discovered pre-signed authorizations from some property owners/agents in the possession of King’s Wrecker employees. This would mean that the towtruck drivers were making decisions as to which vehicles were parked illegally and which vehicles should be towed/impounded. If so, this would be a violation of the county ordinance. The Sheriff’s Office has provided no factual findings at this point – and has not charged the King’s Wrecker or its owners with any crimes. The Consumer Affairs Division has done a physical audit of some of the King’s Wrecker records – but our investigation is not complete. “
Communities need to realize that parking has always been a problem, and will always be a problem. All they can do is attempt to hire honest companies to help control the problem, and try to convey to residents that it is in their own best interests to follow posted regulations. It isn’t rocket science to determine that if you have two cars parked opposite each other on a two lane road, something doesn’t work. It is simple to remember not to block a fire hydrant, or not to park too close to a stop sign. You just have to think, then park.
“When you refer to “honest companies” – those companies must have a direct association with the property owner/ HOA (i.e., property management company, licensed security company, etc.)” stated Moore. “The towing company merely provides transportation from the HOA to their towing storage yard – and are not permitted to be involved in which vehicles should or must be removed from the HOA property.”
Of course, if the property manager is participating in the illegal towing of cars by the tow company, there are many more issues that arise. According to recent reports regarding tow operation here in Palm Beach County, this problem is much worse, and much more widespread, than initially reported. The Sheriff’s Office is currently conducting a thorough investigation into the matter, and more arrests are expected. The future looks bleak for King’s Wrecker, but other companies, and management companies, are being looked at for illegal operations.
“The property owner/manager may have a considerable legal and liability problem if they are pre-signing or pre-authorizing vehicles to be towed and in essence giving the towing company the authority to decide which vehicles are to be removed/impounded ” according to Mr. Moore.
For a listing of approved tow companies in Palm Beach County, as well as any violations of the law (or lack thereof), check out the Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs website.