This article tells you about your options if your car was towed. This article was written by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Can my vehicle be towed if it is on private property?
Yes, but certain legal requirements must be met. If parked in a designated area, vehicles (including cars, trucks, boats, trailers, campers, and motor homes) can be towed from: public and private parking lots, parking garages, and apartment complexes; from neighborhoods with homeowner association rules prohibiting parking of certain vehicles in certain areas (like a motor home parked outside of a residence); if the vehicle is unattended, inoperable, and left on public property for more than 48 hours. If you are arrested (for example, for DUI), your car can be impounded in a police storage lot.
How can I tell if a lot is designated parking?
Signs must be attached to a pole or a wall in each space or placed around the entire lot and be easily visible. They must have the international towing symbol and language that says “Unauthorized Vehicle Will be Towed at Owner or Operator’s Expense.” Signs must include the name and phone number of the storage facility where the car will be towed.
How much can I be charged for a tow?
Most cities regulate tow fees, which will be lower than the maximum allowed under Texas law. The maximum tow fees allowed by law are as follows: light duty tows, $255; medium tows, $357; heavy duty tows, $459 per unit or a maximum of $918. By law, you are entitled to pay the tow operator with cash, debit card or credit card. Note: Fees charged by the storage facility where the vehicle is towed are in addition to the towing fee. See Texas Occupations Code 86.455, Private Property Tow Fees.
What is a drop fee?
A drop fee is a charge offered by the tow operator that allows you to stop the tow without paying the full tow charge and additional storage charges. Until the tow truck enters a public street, road or highway, you have an absolute right to regain possession of your vehicle by paying the drop fee. By law, the tow operator must tell you that you can pay the drop fee on the spot to drop the vehicle.
NOTE: You do NOT have to pay a drop fee unless your vehicle is completely hooked up to the tow truck. "Hooked up" means that the vehicle is already lifted into the tow position with tow lights and safety chains attached, and is ready for the tow operator to drive away. If your vehicle is not completely hooked up, you can’t be charged a drop fee. Take a picture of the incomplete hookup and call the police if the tow operator refuses to release the vehicle to you. Like tow fees, drop fees are set by local laws, are based on vehicle weight and cannot be higher than the maximum allowed by Texas law.
My car was towed from the parking lot of my apartment complex! Is this legal?
The parking rules and policies for your apartment must be provided to you by your landlord when you sign the lease, either as part of the lease or as a separate document. It must read Parking or Parking Rules, and be underlined, capitalized, or in bold face type. Generally, your car can be towed from the parking lot of your apartment complex if it blocks a walkway, blocks other vehicles or access to the dumpster, is parked in a restricted or reserved space or in a tow-away zone or is a semitrailer, trailer, or truck-tractor, unless your lease agreement allows you to leave it there.
What if my car was towed illegally?
Texas towing companies and storage facilities must be licensed. Check to see if they have a license by searching: https://www.tdlr.texas.gov/LicenseSearch/. Request a tow hearing in justice court within 14 days of the tow. The court will hold a hearing within 21 days of filing. If your car was towed illegally, the operator is not licensed, or the license is invalid or expired, you might not have to pay for tow or storage fees. Storage facilities are also required to post their fees or face penalties.
The Texas Justice Court Training Center offers information about tow hearings.
For more information on your rights against tow companies, including how to report abuse and sue, see this page from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation: https://www.tdlr.texas.gov/towing/consumerinfo.htm.
Can I get my personal property from my towed car?
A towing company cannot take property left inside your car or use your car while it’s in storage. The storage company cannot withhold your personal property or make you pay for getting it out of the car. If they refuse to allow access to your property, you can sue them in small claims court. You must prove that you own or are authorized to use the car, and that you own the personal property. See Consumer Information about Towing.
Can the storage company auction off my car?
Yes. The storage company must notify you twice that your car is in storage. A vehicle must be on the lot for at least 24 hours before the first notice is sent. If the vehicle is registered in Texas the notice must be sent no later than the 5th day it is on the lot. If the vehicle is registered in another state, the notice must be sent no later than the 14th day the vehicle is on the lot. The second notification must be sent between the 15th day and the 20th day after the date the first notice was mailed or published.
If you don’t claim your car within 31 days of the storage company sending you a 2nd written notice, the car can be sold at auction. If you don’t have the correct address on your registration, you might not get the notice. But under some circumstances the vehicle can be classified as "junk" and the storage company can get authority to demolish it on the 10th day after the first notice has been sent to you.
According to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation:
A [vehicle storage facility ("VSF")] may consider a car abandoned if it is not claimed by the owner. A VSF must mail or publish at least two notices stating that they have the car and wait at least 30 days after the second notice before taking any action.
A VSF may sell a car through a public sale 30 days after the VSF mailed or published the second notice. Proceeds from the sale will be used to pay towing and storage charges. Any remaining proceeds may be paid to the vehicle owner. Disputes over the sale or the payment of proceeds may be taken to court.
Special rules apply to a car that is more than 10 years old and in a condition to only be junked, crushed or dismantled. A VSF with these abandoned nuisance vehicles is not required to send or publish a second notice and may sell the car 30 days after the first notice.
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