In December 2016, Arlington passed some new legislation aimed at curbing predatory towing and implementing new consumer protection measures. The most "controversial" of this new legislation is the "real-time authorization" rule, which is explicitly allowed by state law. See § 46.2-1232: "obtain, at the time the vehicle is towed, if such towing is performed during the normal business hours of the owner of the property from which the vehicle is being towed, the written authorization of the owner of the property from which the vehicle is towed, or his agent. Such written authorization, if required, shall be in addition to any written contract...". In fact, this law is already in effect in Virginia Beach and Stafford. Almost immediately, the powerful tow lobby of this multi-million dollar industry went to work at the state level, and in January two bills were introduced: HB 1960 in the House and SB 1468 in the Senate. Recently SB 1468 was defeated in the Senate, but the House Bill passed, which means it next goes to the Senate for another vote.
This bill is shocking in its blatant targeting of Arlington (technically, all of Planning District 8, which is only 1 of 23 Planning Districts in Virginia) - a calculated move by the towing industry to surgically attack Arlington while avoiding other districts who may also be opposed to this kind of legal overreach. In most cases, it leaves the majority of the language in place, but then adds additional passages to target our little corner of the state with additional legislative burden. See the italicized text in HB 1960. For example, the bill tries to change this text:
Such written authorization, if required, shall be in addition to any written contract between the towing and recovery operator and the owner of the property or his agent.
... to this:
Such written authorization, if required, shall be in addition to any written contract between the towing and recovery operator and the owner of the property or his agent, except for vehicles being towed from a locality within Planning District 8, which shall not require written authorization if such written contract is in place. Any such written contract governing a property located within Planning District 8 shall clearly state the terms on which towing and recovery operators may monitor private lots on behalf of property owners.
This occurs all throughout the bill. Another example relates to Arlington's Trespass Towing Advisory Board. Currently the County Board, recognizing that the purpose of this advisory board is to advise the County Board on towing legislation, has authorized 10 non-voting members of this board to contribute to the discussion (state law already mandates that local advisory boards be stacked only with equal voting members of the tow industry and law enforcement, with one resident). On our Arlington County Board, the chairperson (Nancy Iacomini) is the lone resident on the board, and spends a lot of time fighting for consumer rights. But the industry seems to believe that consumer rights are not important, and somehow got language in this bill to target one single individual in the entire state - how is that even possible? The new language reads: "The chairman of any such advisory board for any locality within Planning District 8 shall be a representative of a licensed towing and recovery operator." It also includes new language to have myself and the nine other non-voting members of the advisory board removed. That's right - somehow the state legislature is voting soon on a bill that target a single individual in a single planning district - with no justification at all on why our district in particular is different than any others (let alone why advisory boards can't be composed of a representative sample of people affected by the legislation they're advising on)!
While state law recently mandated last year that involuntary towing fees be raised from $135 to $185 in some cases (nights, weekends, and holidays), this year they're getting even more bold. Now, towing fees would be raised from a range of $135-$185 to a range of $150-$200. The kicker? You got it - it only applies to District 8. The current law § 46.2-1233) is clear: "Localities may regulate towing fees". Except, for some reason, Planning District 8. Perhaps the argument could be made that our area of the state is more expensive to do business in, but the existing law already says localities have to "set reasonable limits" - why is it that this law robs Arlingtonians of the right to determine that reasonable limit with actual data, and why does this rate keep going up without anyone but the tow lobbyists having a say in the matter?
Finally, for some reason the tow companies want to be allowed to tow cars with pets in them. Don't ask me why, are there really that many trespassing criminals out there who use Fido to prevent their cars from getting towed?
I'd encourage you to reach out to your Senators and ask them to vote NO on HB 1960 next week! I have, and if you need their contact information, see below.
This letter was sent on 2/13/17 to the following Senators who voted for SB 1468 (the Senate version of this bill that was defeated on 1/31/17), but hopefully will change their minds when considering how it hurts consumers and unfairly targets a specific planning region:
It was also sent to the following Senators who voted AGAINST SB 1468 with a "Thank You" and a request to do the same for the House bill, and vote against HB 1960:
I am writing to ask you to vote NO on HB 1960. This bill is simply unfair to single out only 1 of 23 districts with its overreaching legislation, and it undermines reasonable consumer protections in the interest of propping up the multi-million dollar towing industry.
I am an Arlington Resident, and since my car was damaged by Advanced Towing last April, I have spent countless hours researching this topic and speaking up on it - I'm even now a non-voting member of the Trespass Towing Advisory Board, one of 10 people that this bill is trying to have removed. I also run the web sites http://arlingtontowcode.com/ (where I will post this letter) and http://advancedtowing-fraud.com/ advocating change and exposing multiple legal infractions by Advanced Towing in Arlington County.
Here are some reasons I would implore you to consider why voting against this bill is in the best interest of consumers and even businesses:
I am hoping I can count on your NO vote to ensure fairness to all parties affected (industry, residents, and businesses) in all areas of our state (and not just singling out District 8).
Thank you for your time and consideration on this matter.
So there's some good news and some bad news. The good news is that this legislation has all passed! The bad, news, unfortunately, is that the powerful tow lobby has gone to the state to pass a bill overturning all of these consumer protection measures. They plan to raise the towing rate AGAIN, override Arlington's "real-time authorization" requirement, and undermine any semblance of impartiality on the Tresspass Tow Advisory Board. Yes, they're literally going out of their way to pass a law singling out only our Arlington Advisory board, and only to get me and the other 9 non-voting members of the board removed, and remove Ms. Iacomini (the sole resident on the board) removed as chairperson. Really, you can't make this up: the towing industry is trying to pass a law REQUIRING Arlington to have a Towing Advisory board to advise on legislation, and FORCING Arlington to remove over half of the members because they're not insiders. Insidious!
Read the summary of HB 1960 here. You'll see they're trying to overturn the real-time authorization, raise the tow fee again, dismantle any semblance of equal representation on the advisory board, and legalize towing a vehicle with a pet inside. Bizarrely, the first three things apply ONLY to Arlington (District 8) and not the rest of Virginia. These changes are simply vindictive.
Please, take a moment to read Ms. Iacomini's post on ARLNow.com about this issue, and Sign the Petition! I'll include my comments on that post here so you can see what they're trying to do at a high level:
They are trying to further bias the Trespass Towing Advisory Board
As a non-voting member of the Trespass Towing Advisory Board working with Ms. Iacomini, I agree wholeheartedly with this, and strongly encourage those interested in consumer protection and fair and legal practices to sign this petition. Arlington is required by law to have this board, which recommends legislation to the county board. But it is also required by law that this board's voting members be 3 members of the police force, 3 members of the towing industry, and 1 member of the public (Ms. Iacomini, who is currently the chairperson). The Arlington County Board has recognized that the "advisement" from this board is obviously biased, so they have introduced 10 non-voting members to the board so that multiple viewpoints can be expressed. This bill goes out of its way to have Ms. Iacomini removed from her post, and all 10 non-voting members removed. How can any legislator with a straight face think this is a fair way to advise our local lawmakers on legislation that affects us all??
"The chairman of any such advisory board for any locality within Planning District 8 shall be a representative of a licensed towing and recovery operator."
Real-time authorization is already legal and used in Virginia; they are just trying to cripple Arlington's (and no one else's) right to implement the measure
What the Arlington County Board passed in December for the "real-time" authorization is currently legal and already in the current law. See how it reads in the current law:
"(iv) obtain, at the time the vehicle is towed, if such towing is performed during the normal business hours of the owner of the property from which the vehicle is being towed, the written authorization of the owner of the property from which the vehicle is towed, or his agent. Such written authorization, if required, shall be in addition to any written contract between the towing and recovery operator and the owner of the property or his agent. ".
As mentioned, VA Beach already has this law in place. But rather than change that law for all of Virginia, the vindictive tow lobby is attempting to sabotage JUST ARLINGTON. See how the amended law looks:
"(iv) obtain, at the time the vehicle is towed, if such towing is performed during the normal business hours of the owner of the property from which the vehicle is being towed, the written authorization of the owner of the property from which the vehicle is towed, or his agent. Such written authorization, if required, shall be in addition to any written contract between the towing and recovery operator and the owner of the property or his agent, except for vehicles being towed from a locality within Planning District 8, which shall not require written authorization if such written contract is in place. Any such written contract governing a property located within Planning District 8 shall clearly state the terms on which towing and recovery operators may monitor private lots on behalf of property owners. "
See the difference? How can that even be possible to punish just one district? What legal grounds do they have to create a separate clause just for Arlington? Strategically, I have to say "well-played, Tow Lobbyists". You're trying to cripple Arlington's right to enact this law while relatively few people are aware of it yet, but avoided rescinding the law in Virginia Beach, where more people might have opposed it.
Real-time authorization does not infringe on private property owners to protect their property; it enhances it
For all those examples of "if someone parked in your driveway, you'd want them removed to", you are missing the point that the "real-time authorization" is meant to address. If we use your example, it simply means that when the tow truck driver gets there you have to confirm that yes, that car is in your driveway and you want it removed. See http://advancedtowing-fraud/ for an example of where Advanced Towing stole a car from the lot of an Arlington Business (and then allegedly attempted to run the owner over). This business has no contract with Advanced Towing and never authorized the tow. If the "real-time authorization" was in place, this would not have happened.
Are the towing companies really losing so much money by not being able to tow cars with pets in it, that they had to legalize the practice now?
Finally, for you pet lovers out there. For some reason they felt it was necessary to legalize towing your car with a pet in there - see the new code:
"Any tow truck driver who removes or tows a vehicle, pursuant to any such ordinance, that is occupied by an unattended companion animal as defined in §3.2-6500 shall, upon such removal, immediately notify the animal control office of the locality in which the vehicle is being removed or towed."
Sign the Petition!
Here's how I answered the question "Why do you oppose HB1960 and SB1468?":
Having been a victim of abuse by towing in Arlington (http://advancedtowing-fraud.com/), I oppose these draconian and targeted measures to further cripple consumer rights in Arlington, and find it an overreach of power to specifically single out Arlington in this code while leaving other areas of Virginia untouched. I am actually a non-voting member of the Tresspass Towing Advisory Board in Arlington, and realize that the towing industry is doing everything it can to have me and the other 9 non-voting members of the board removed. It is behind comprehension how this bill could be passed to force a county to create an "advisory board" on certain legislation, only to "stack the deck" with members who will only advise in their best interest. This bill flies in the face of creating fair legislation for all.
On November 5, 2016, the Arlington County Board held a meeting to discuss new and modified legislation in the county. This meeting, among other things, advertised proposed changes to the Arlington County Code for Towing and Storage of Vehicles. As a consumer advocate who has done an enormous amount of work looking into this industry and has documented my personal struggle with it, it is my opinion that some of the proposed amendments are a setback for consumer rights, and others will bring a huge benefit to protecting consumers and their property. These amendments will be discussed and changes will become part of the Arlington Code in the next board meeting on December 13th. But they're not codified into law yet - the county board has "advertised" these changes to solicit feedback from Arlington residents.
The industry has a powerful lobby behind it, and Arlington's own Trespass Towing Advisory Board (TTAB) is somehow required by state law to be comprised of an equal number of representatives from the tow industry and law enforcement, and only a single member of the general public. Currently the composition is 3 tow company representatives, 3 police officers, and a single member of the general public. (Full disclosure: I and 9 other residents and property owners are non-voting members). This composition virtually guarantees that recommendations from the board are not always in the best interest of vehicle owners. In fact, that's what has happened with many of the TTAB's recommendations in the last board meeting - several changes have been proposed that directly benefit the tow companies and hurt vehicle owners. But there is hope: the Arlington County Board doesn't have to accept the TTAB's recommendations, and in fact has advertised several amendments that are beneficial to vehicle owners. These advertisements are currently open for discussion, but aren't guaranteed to make it into the County Code without support of Arlington residents who are fed up with predatory towing and an industry run amok. And that's where you come in!
A democracy is only as strong as the people who make their voices heard, so please, make your voice heard! To do this, I am asking you to email all members of the Arlington County Board prior to December 13th, and make your voice heard about the changes you would like implemented.
Use this link to get started on the email. I encourage you to do some research on these various issues and share your personal stories with the board, but below is a template that you can copy to get you started. I've presented the email as a bulleted list so you can add or remove sections that you agree or disagree with, or just send the email as-is (of course, replacing the placeholders with your information). Even if you don't have a car (but perhaps use ZipCar occasionally), or if you don't live in Arlington (but perhaps have occasion to park in the county), your support is also important.
To the Arlington County Board:
I am writing in response to the advertisement of changes to Chapter 14.3 of the Arlington Code regarding Trespass Towing. I live at [your address or neighborhood] in Arlington, and strongly support the following amendments to the code:
- Support: "Require the Second Signature". Currently tow companies have blanket contracts with businesses that allow them to tow immediately once a person steps foot off a commercial lot, even if that person is simply walking next door to the ATM in order to patronize that business. And they employ "spotters" to practice "predatory towing", which means my car could be towed in seconds. The requirement for the tow truck driver to get authorization from the business prior to when my car would be towed will protect both me and the business I am trying to patronize. Mr. Fisette's proposal to only make this required during normal business hours and only for commercial properties is a good compromise that shouldn't put too much undue burden on the businesses themselves, while also protecting me from aggressive predatory towing.
- Support: "Require additional information on or with the receipt". If parking tickets have information on how to contest the ticket, I believe a similar explanation of my rights should be provided to me when I pick up my towed vehicle. Simple language that says something to the effect of "Towing is regulated by Arlington County. For questions, see https://topics.arlingtonva.us/towing/, and for complaints contact email@example.com or 703-228-4266." should suffice. That way, if my car has been towed and I feel it was inappropriate or unlawful (or if damage has occurred), I would know what my next course of action is and what possible recourse I have.
- Support: "Update the requirement for taking photographs and/or video taken at the time of the tow". The current law says that the driver must take photographs substantiating the reason for the tow and the condition of the vehicle, and I am aware that the TTAB has advised removing this regulation on the grounds that it is "too hard to enforce". When a car is towed, often the only witness is the tow truck driver himself. If I pick up my car and find there is damage and the company denies causing the damage, then my only recourse is to sue in civil court. The company is well aware that this process is time-consuming and expensive. Removing this clause sets a dangerous precedent, removing the one small thing incenting tow truck drivers to be careful with my vehicle. Instead, I support strengthening the current requirement by requiring the driver to take clear and accurate pictures of the condition of my vehicle before it is attached to the tow truck. While not perfect, this would help protect not only the driver against frivolous damage claims, but I would have an additional "witness" to the condition of my car before it was towed that I may be able to use later in court (or accept as proof that my car was, indeed, already damaged). Without this protection, the tow company has no incentive whatsoever to accept responsibility for damaging a vehicle, and could simply deny all claims with the knowledge that few people have the time or resources to hire a lawyer and fight them in court with no evidence but "he said, she said".
- Support: "Require tow truck driver to notify the county immediately prior to a tow". Currently the law says that tow truck drivers should notify the county of the tow immediately prior to the tow. I understand the TTAB has advised changing this language to read "within 10 minutes of the tow", and I strongly oppose that change. If the change is made, then it is possible that if my car has disappeared when I return to a lot and I call the police, they would have no idea where the car is and I would assume it was stolen. It would also cause an additional burden on me and Arlington County services if the response to these calls is "we don't know where your car is, but please wait around in the lot for 10 minutes so we can see if the tow company files a report with us. Call back then."
[Include any details at all if you've been towed in Arlington County, how the experience was, and how the above changes might have helped you personally]
On 11/5/16, the Arlington County Board convened to discuss many topics, notably #40: "Request to authorize advertisement of a public hearing on proposed amendments to Chapter 14.3 of the Arlington County Code, Trespass Towing". Below are my notes attempting to summarize the discussion for those who don't have 90 minutes to watch or listen to the entire thing. It is not a complete transcript and some quotes may not be precise. And while I've attempted to capture all key points in the discussion, I am admittedly biased and there is the possibility I may have missed important details. Please view the video for a more precise recounting of the discussion. Time stamps in the below list are approximate points in the video, not the time of day.
|Discussion starts. Brian Stout gives a good overview of the purpose of the county code (protecting consumers as well as businesses) and general tow density maps showing tow concentrations.
Mr. Stout summarizes the Staff recommendations based on the two TTAB meetings.
|Nancy Iacomini presents the TTAB recommendations.
|Public speaker: Jim Hurysz (resident). He suggests that residents could be appointed to the board as the law enforcement representatives, and to consider increased enforcement of handicap spots.
|Public speaker: Kate Bates (representing some property owners, but not clear in the video which organization she belongs to).
|Public speaker: Sarah McKinley (VP of Columbia Heights Civic Association)
|Jay Fisette proposes three additional amendments for advertisement (which means this is not a final decision, but open to solicit community feedback). He says the goal is modest, limited burden and regulation, but with effective protection of consumers and citizens. He also cites the biased nature of the board and how they have attempted to give others such as property owners, vehicle owners, and even AAA a voice by appointing some non-voting members of the board.
|Data is brought up showing the number of complaints and tows are very low. Mr. Stout mentions the violations and enforcement are complaint-driven, and agrees with Mr. Fisette that the number of complaints and violations is on the low-end since not every complaint is reported through the proper channels. Additionally, a case was discussed where a resident claimed that a no parking sign was knocked down in last year's blizzard, and the signs were improper. The county agreed there was a violation and the customer was refunded. However, if indeed the sign was knocked down during the blizzard, then there technically would have been about 200-250 improper tows, arguably each of them a violation. [editorial: This number is based on a FOIA request I made; the count is an estimate based on this data. I personally believe that each of these people should be able to request a refund as well; if you parked in the Fresh Bikes parking lot between late January and mid-September, you were improperly towed since a sign violation was found].
The summary of this conversation was simply that the data should be taken for what it is, and it is clearly not representative of 100% of the complaints (since people sometimes just pay and drop the issue, or complain on social media) nor violations (since a single violation might apply to hundreds of tows).
|Mr. Vihstadt mentioned the observation that by contrast there doesn't appear to be any shortage of folks contesting parking tickets, and that it might be helpful to get that comparative data. Mr. Fisette indicated that this was an excellent segue into his next amendment:
|Mr. Fisette proposes last amendment.
|Ms. Cristol proposes another amendment.
In addition to hosting this site, I am also the author of advancedtowing-fraud.com. Ever since an incident in April where my car was towed and damaged on the night of the tow, I have taken up a keen interest in doing investigative journalism on this industry and being a consumer advocate. I have spent countless hours documenting and building my case that not only did Advanced Towing damage my car that night, but the driver took a picture of the damage after he caused it, and then used that picture to make the claim that "the damage was already there". In addition to pursuing all legal action available to me on this case - in criminal court, with the Better Business Bureau, with the Office of the Attorney General (Consumer Affairs), and eventually civil court, I am a non-voting member on the Arlington Trespass Towing Advisory Board (TTAB). This opinions on this site are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the opinion of the TTAB. I have made every effort to present true and accurate factual information and cite my sources where appropriate, but if you see anything incorrect or would like to contact me, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.