TRENTON – The Senate today passed legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph Coniglio that would provide consumers with new protections from what they say are overzealous and overpriced towing companies.
“There are very few limits on what towing companies are allowed to do in New Jersey,” said Senator Coniglio, D-Bergen. “Drivers need to have some basic protections against those companies that prowl the streets actively looking for cars to tow and then charge an arm and a leg to release the car.”
Senator Coniglio noted that the bill was crafted in response to numerous complaints of towing companies charging inflated fees and exploiting drivers by waiting in parking lots for drivers to park illegally.
“We’ve heard too many complaints of drivers running into a store for a few minutes, not realizing that they had parked in the wrong spot, and coming out to find their car missing,” explained Senator Coniglio. “People should have some basic rights to protect them from these sorts of predatory practices.”
The bill, S-2759, would set out certain conditions to be met before a car could be towed. A sign must be posted at all entrances and exits that states who is authorized to use the lot, that unauthorized parking is prohibited, the business information of the authorized towing company, including the address of the storing facility, and that charges will not exceed specified fees. Additionally, any tows would require written authorization from a site’s owner or employee.
For instances when a vehicle is parked too close to a fire hydrant or in a fire line or is blocking an entrance or exit during non business hours, a general authorization in writing to tow is required.
“Often it seems like there is a ‘Wild Wild West’ mentality amongst towing operators, where anything goes in order to make a buck And while we want to make sure that property owners can maintain open parking for tenants and customers, there must be a logical and deliberate process to follow in order to have a car towed,” added Senator Coniglio.
The bill would additionally protect drivers by stating that a towing company’s fee for a towing service is presumed excessive if it exceeds 150% or a percentage established by the Division, of the average fee for the same services charged in the county of the towing company’s principal location. The bill would also prohibit a motor vehicle from being towed to a storage facility unless it has business hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at least five days a week, is secured and has reasonable accommodations for after-hours release for no additional fee.
“These companies feel they have the right to fleece the people they unwillingly tow. For some families, the hundreds of dollars it takes to release their car can mean not being able to pay all of the rent for the month. These fees need to be more reasonable and less arbitrary,” said Senator Coniglio.
Any tower would be required to register with the Division of Consumer Affairs annually, under the provisions of the bill. Registered companies would be required to display a decal on all vehicles used by that company. The Division could deny registration to companies with a history of gross or repeated negligence, incompetence, or misconduct, to have previously violated the provisions of the bill three or more times, or those convicted of any crime involving a vehicle.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 36-1 and the Assembly by a vote of 79-1 and now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature.