For a number of reasons, you may find yourself in a situation where your vehicle is at-risk for towing from private property. Like many other states, California has detailed laws in place that govern whether or not towing can occur in a given set of circumstances. Unless you know the law, you could easily end up incurring the expense and inconvenience of tracking down your towed vehicle and recovering it from storage. Let’s take a look at the guidelines that apply throughout the state.
Who Can Tow Your Vehicle?
Not just anyone in California can legally tow your vehicle from private or public property. State regulations require the person performing any towing operation to possess a current Class B commercial driver’s license. In addition, the company that owns the tow truck must have an up-to-date motor vehicle carrier permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Who Can Authorize a Private Property Tow?
Legal restrictions also apply to the person or persons requesting a vehicle tow from private property. First, anyone calling for a tow must provide written authorization to the towing company. The individual providing this authorization may be the property owner. However, several other groups of people may act on the owner’s behalf. Examples of acceptable representatives include:
- People who work for the property owner
- The tenant of a commercial property
- Someone who works for the tenant of a commercial property, and
- The tenant of any apartment complex without an onsite manager that has no more than 14 units
Instead of individually authorizing each tow, the owner of a piece of private property can also generally authorize a towing company to do its work. However, certain restrictions apply to any such authorization. In fact, it’s only good for:
- Vehicles that block property access
- Vehicles no more than 15 feet from a fire hydrant, and
- Vehicles parked in designated fire lanes
The towing company must produce photographic evidence that proves that one of these three situations existed.
What Circumstances Can Lead to Towing from Private Property?
California also places limits on the specific circumstances that allow someone to request a vehicle tow from private property. At least one of these four circumstances must apply in all situations:
- The owner has marked the property with plainly visible signs that note the potential for towing. Each sign posted must meet the state’s guidelines for size and lettering height. In addition, it must list the names and phone numbers of every towing company authorized to operate on the property.
- The piece of property is the site of a single-family home.
- The property owner identifies the presence of any vehicle that lacks at least some of the equipment needed for safe operation (e.g., a windshield, wheels, doors or an engine). In this case, the owner must also contact the appropriate traffic enforcement authorities and wait for a full day after making this contact.
- Four days (96 hours) have passed since a vehicle left on private property has been marked with a parking violation notification.
The company that tows your vehicle has one additional obligation. If they can obtain your name and address from the DMV or the property owner or owner’s representative, they must inform you as soon as possible that a tow has occurred. They must also tell you why they towed your vehicle and notify you of its storage location. Any property owner or towing company who does not follow the law is subject to a significant fine.
It’s also important to note that you can potentially stop a tow from private property, even if the truck driver has already hitched your vehicle for transport. However, the driver is only obligated to comply with your request before the tow truck reaches public property. In this situation, the driver has the right to recover up to half of the company’s normal fee before releasing your vehicle.
For more information on towing regulations, call a reputable towing provider in your area. If you don’t live in California, check the laws that apply in your state. No matter where you live, be aware that your local jurisdiction may have its own additional towing regulations.