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Committee opposes ban on ‘predatory’ towing

Despite complaints from the public about so-called “predatory” towing practices in Charlotte, a committee has decided against outlawing the practice.

The practice is also known in the industry as patrol towing, in which a towing company monitors a parking lot and tows vehicles as soon as they are parked in the wrong space. In Charlotte, some businesses and motorists have complained that towing companies seem to stalk parking lots, hauling away vehicles not long after they are parked even if the owner catches the towing company in the act and pleads to have their vehicle released.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department attorney Mark Newbold said Monday that the City Council’s Community Safety Committee has recommended that the practice not be eliminated, although he said other cities ban the practice.

“Ours is in the middle,” he said. “Ours recognizes that sometimes there’s a circumstance where a vehicle needs to be removed.”

But amendments to the city’s towing ordinance could be adopted as early as next month.

On Monday, the committee recommended that a public hearing be held Feb. 14 and a final vote take place Feb. 28.

The amendments, which are more than a year in the making, give those whose vehicles have been towed more recourse and is based on similar ordinances in cities such as Raleigh and Asheville.

Some of the proposed changes include requiring:

• that signs telling customers where they can and cannot park be placed at the entrance to lots or along the fronting street every 50 feet. The changes also specify what the signs must say, based on lot restrictions, and how high signs must be placed;

• towing companies to charge no more than $120 for vehicles weighing less than 9,000 pounds, which covers most cars, trucks and and SUVs, or $500 for vehicles weighing more, which covers large commercial vehicles. Companies would also have to accept at least two major credit cards or a debit card in addition to cash;

• towing companies to release, at no charge, a vehicle if the owner returns before it’s been removed from the lot. If a vehicle has been towed and the owner needs an item from inside, the towing company would have to give it to them;

• storage facilities where vehicles have been towed to have someone to respond to calls at all hours so that a vehicle can be released to its owner within 45 minutes. There would also be a ban on storing cars towed from Charlotte in a facility outside of city limits; and

• a property owner or agent to sign off on the towing before a vehicle is removed from a parking lot from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Vehicles would not be able to be removed until the towing has been reported to Charlotte police.

Also under the proposed changes, it would be illegal for a vehicle owner to interfere with a towing that is in compliance with the ordinance.

Anyone who does not comply with the ordinance could be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $500.

Caitlin Coakley can be reached at caitlin.coakley@mecktimes.com.

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