Involuntary Or Non-Consent Towing Laws In Chattanooga Are Not Widely Known - And Response

Thursday, December 5, 2019

When a parked vehicle is towed on an involuntarily or non-consent basis (for example from a business parking lot) there are several Chattanooga City Code sections and Tennessee Code Annotated sections that the parking public may not be aware of. For example, $125 plus storage of $20 per day (after 24 hours) is allowed for an involuntary,  properly-business-owner-authorized,  properly-documented and properly-signaged tow, but with no additional fees allowed. The following is a partial list of city code sections and state laws that the business owners and towing companies must follow when hooking up and taking your vehicle away without your express consent:

Chattanooga City Code, Part II, Chapter 35, Article IV,  Section 35-171(b) “ A tow or wrecker operator shall notify the Chattanooga Police Department of any non-consent tow of a motor vehicle from a private property. The Notice required by this subsection shall be sent electronically or telephonically within one (1) hour of making the non-consent tow of a motor vehicle from a private property.

Section 35-171 (c) “Prior to towing a vehicle from private property without the vehicle owner’s consent, the wrecker or towing operator must have express written authorization for towing of that vehicle from the owner of the private property or the private property owner’s designated agent.” …” Maximum allowable rates for non-consent towing from private property will be as specified in subsections (d) and (e)”

Section 35-171 (e) "Rate Schedule for Non-Consent Towing from Private Property. Any wrecker or towing operator engaged in the business of non-consent towing shall not charge the owner of any towed vehicle or personal property in excess of the following rates: Towing: (1) Two axle vehicles under 7,000 pounds GVWR….$125, excluding storage fees.” …"(3) The maximum fee for storage of a vehicle removed from private property (without the owner’s consent) shall be $20 per day. No storage fee shall be charged for a vehicle stored 24 or less.”  (4) “…one time processing fee of $15) for any vehicle remaining in storage on the company lot for more than 10 days…”

Section 35-171 (f) “The towing fees set forth in this Section shall be all inclusive; no additional fees may be charged, for using dollies, trailers, lifts, slim jims or any other equipment or service, or for mileage.” 

Section 35-171 (h) “Tows from private property shall conform with the requirements of this Section along with federal and state laws, including Tennessee Code Annotated 55-16-112 and Tennessee Code Annotated 66-28-518.

Tennessee Code Annotated 55-16-112. “Written authorization required for towing or storage of motor vehicle. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this part or title 66, chapter 19, part 1, in order for a garage keeper or a towing firm to tow or to store a vehicle the garagekeeper or towing firm shall obtain an express written authorization for towing and storage of each vehicle from a law enforcement officer with appropriate jurisdiction, or from the owner of the vehicle, or from the owner, or the authorized agent of the owner, of the private property from which the vehicle is to be towed. The authorization shall include all of the information required by 66-19-103(d). In addition to any other penalty provided by this part or by title 66, chapter 19, part 1, a violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.”  

Information required by Tennessee Code Annotated 66-19-103(d)(1) Any authorization…shall include: (A) the name of the officer {or property owner or property owner’s agent} giving authorization; (B)The year, make and model, and color of the vehicle to be towed; (C) The reason for the tow; (D) The license plate number, if any; and (E) The vehicle identification number, if it is ascertainable.  (2) A copy of such authorization shall be posted with the vehicle by the officer {or property owner or property owner’s agent} giving authorization and shall remain with the vehicle until the vehicle is claimed by the owner.” 

Chattanooga City Code 35-171 (i) "It shall be unlawful for a property owner or a property owners’ agent, tenant, lessee, occupant or person in possession of premises to authorize a tow for the removal of a vehicle from private property unless the premises are clearly marked with identifiable signage that states unauthorized parking of vehicles on the premises shall result in a vehicle being removed or towed without the vehicle owners’ consent for a fee. The signage shall be conspicuously posted and shall also include information as to the location where the vehicle can be recovered, the telephone number for recovery of the vehicle, the cost of said recovery, and information as to the form of payment; provided, however that the owner of residential private property containing not more than four (4) residential units shall not be required to comply with the posting requirements of this subsection.”

35-171 (j) (1) “Every tow or wrecker operator who makes non-consent tows shall  be issued a rate card by the Wrecker Inspector setting forth the maximum authorized rates and charges for non-consent tows permitted by the City of Chattanooga. Such card shall be displayed in such a place as to be in full view of anyone wishing to inspect same. 

35-171 (j) (2) “Every tow or wrecker operator shall use bullheads with the name, address, and place of business of the wrecker company printed thereon. The operator of a wrecker towing away a vehicle shall prepare a bill on this billhead in triplicate; the original copy of which shall be given to the owner of the vehicle or his authorized representative; one copy shall be sent to the Wrecker Inspector on or before the 15th of the month; and the last copy must be retained by the owner of the wrecker company for no less than twenty-four (24) months. This bill shall contain the following information: a. The name and address of person engaging the wrecker.  b. The state license plate number or the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number of the towed vehicle. c. The rate charged in accordance to Section 35-171(e)(1) and (2) and, if applicable the storage rate per day in accordance to Section 35-171(e)(4).    d. The place to where vehicle was towed.   e. The following language: “The City of Chattanooga Wrecker Inspector mat be contacted by calling the City of Chattanooga Police Department at (423) 643-5000.”  (Chattanooga Ordinance No 12393; Ordinance 12467; Ordinance 12941)

Statute of Limitations
 + Tennessee Code Annotated 28-3-105. Property tort actions-Statutory liabilities. “ The following actions shall be commenced within three years from the accruing of the cause of action: (1) Actions for injuries to personal or real property;  (2) Actions for the detention or conversion of personal property….”

+Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. 47-18-110. Limitations of actions. “Any action commenced pursuant to 47-18-109 {deceptive practices private right of action} shall be brought within one year from a person’s discovery of the unlawful act or practice….”

Tim Deere

* * *

The Beer Board needs to do something about these rouge wrecker companies shafting tourist and citizens. Really, $210 for a short tow. That is robbery.

The towing predator problem is commonly known in the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County.

It is reasonable to make a profit, and business owners can move cars as they wish.  However, price gouging is a different matter, especially when you have no recourse or knowledge of the tow occurring.   

Chattanooga has a significant tourism industry, and often, out of town visitors are victimized by towing price gouging. 

City of Chattanooga needs to rein in these towing companies. One hundred and twenty-five dollars per tow is enough.

April Eidson

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