News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 4, 2013

City Council mulls towing ordinance

‘Non-consensual’ towing fees would be capped

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute lawmakers are working to find a way to regulate “non-consensual” towing in the city.

At Thursday night’s “sunshine” meeting of the City Council, Councilman John Mullican, D-6th, put forward an ordinance that would set a cap on the fees towing companies can charge motorists whose cars have been towed at another property owner’s request.

The ordinance is in response to what several people at the meeting called “a few bad apples” that have charged extremely high rates or conducted “predatory” towing practices.

“The purpose of this ordinance is to protect the public” from the “unconscionable practices” of a few towing businesses, Mullican said. “There has been a huge discrepancy in fees” charged to motorists in some situations, he said.

“It’s a problem [police] deal with every day,” said Councilman Norm Loudermilk, D-3rd. Some people have faced “outlandish” charges to recover their vehicles in what amount to “very, very shady business practices.”

Among other things, the ordinance would require parking lots to be clearly marked as potential tow-away zones. It would also require wrecker companies taking part in non-consensual towing to obtain city licenses.

Mullican’s ordinance would also make it illegal for towing companies to pay a parking lot owner for the right to tow away vehicles. Such payments serve as a sort of “kickback” from towing businesses to parking lot owners, according to several sources at the meeting.

Paul May of Mike’s Auto Wrecking and Towing, told the council “there is a problem” and something needs to be done. “The only way to fix it is to put a cap” on non-consensual towing fees, he said.

The ordinance would limit non-consensual towing fees to not-more-than 25 percent greater than the current cap placed on towing jobs initiated by the police department.

Jason Durr of Durr’s Towing told the council he also favors a cap, but also had several concerns with the ordinance, including its requirement that parking lot owners fill out forms and write a statement explaining why a tow was requested. He also questioned a provision in the ordinance requiring that vehicles must be available for release 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I think everyone is being punished for a couple of companies,” Durr said.

Mullican said he welcomed the comments on the ordinance, stating it is not a finished product. Councilman George Azar, D-at large, recommended tabling the ordinance until some of the concerns raised Thursday night can be addressed.

Also Thursday, Mayor Duke Bennett told the council he will ask them to withdraw a measure that would have moved $2 million from the city’s economic development income tax fund to the general fund. Bennett sought that move in December when it would have allowed the city to finish 2012 with a positive general fund balance. That request was tabled by the council and it would have “no positive effect” now, the mayor said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4231 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com