News

F.C. Mulls Tough Towing Law

The City of Falls Church is preparing to stiffen its laws in an effort to deter so-called “predatory towing” following a recent rise in the practice, including the towing of 21 vehicles from parking lots of mostly-closed businesses during the City’s annual Memorial Day Parade and Festival.

 

The City of Falls Church is preparing to stiffen its laws in an effort to deter so-called “predatory towing” following a recent rise in the practice, including the towing of 21 vehicles from parking lots of mostly-closed businesses during the City’s annual Memorial Day Parade and Festival.

Victims and witnesses of the “predatory towing” practice note that the minute a person parks a car in, for example, the Broaddale Shopping Center on West Broad Street and steps off the property toward the Mary Riley Styles Public Library, for example, a tow truck from Pete’s Towing in Falls Church sweeps in to tow the car within barely a minute. The inconvenience to the motorist is matched by the financial penalty of $100 to retrieve the car from a privately-owned compound lot.

Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields told the City Council Monday night that draft legislation is being vetted before the City’s Towing Advisory Board prior to coming to the Council for a vote by September.

The new legislation would require a towing company to contact and receive authorization from a property owner, or a designated representative, prior to each and every tow. Violations could result in fines up to $500 for each case.

As it is now, towing companies agree to serve a property owner with a blanket agreement allowing them to tow any car that is not parked on the property to do business on that property.

But property owners complain, for example, that persons in parking in their lots often leave to catch a bus to commute to work, leaving the car there all day long. The same happens, according to reports, at the George Mason High School lots, where some commuters use Metro park.

While the need for towing is evident in such cases, it is the rapid “predatory towing” model that Shields said the City is attempted to deter.

The board of directors of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce agreed by voting Tuesday morning to support a measure along the lines proposed by Shields.

“This practice is terrible for doing business in Falls Church,” Chamber Board member Matt Smith said Tuesday. “The City is spending a lot of money trying to attract business with a branding and marketing effort. It can spend all the money it wants, but shoppers and diners will vanish the minute they experience predatory towing like this. Not only won’t they come back, they’ll tell their friends to stay away, as well.”

The “predatory towing” practice is not new, and complaints about it led to efforts led by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, whose 8th District of Virginia includes the City of Falls Church, to change antiquated federal law giving state and local jurisdictions more authority to limit such practices.

State and local ordinances followed, requiring such things as clear signage warning of the potential for towing, and other reforms. The City of Falls Church established a Towing Advisory Board whose members include representatives of towing companies as well as City officials and a Chamber of Commerce representative.

However, the recent spate of “predatory tows,” especially those on Memorial Day, has made it clear to lawmakers that not enough has been done yet.

One angry Alexandria citizen whose car was towed on Memorial Day filed a formal complaint and described her plight in a letter in this edition of the News-Press. Patty Winters said she parked in the lot at 113 Park Avenue, having worked and parked there for years without a problem, to attend the Memorial Day festivities. But this time, her car was towed.

She wrote that she is unemployed and could barely afford the towing fee of $100, and went on to say that her efforts to appeal her case at Pete’s Towing, located behind the storefronts at 1121 W. Broad, were rebuffed.

Becky Witsman of the City’s economic development office, said that continuous efforts by the City to appeal to the absentee landlords of the shopping centers like Broaddale have proven futile. She said they’ve simply been unresponsive.