Places caps on distance, fees

The Tualatin City Council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance that will regulate towing practices, and which seeks to curtail predatory towing in the city.

A draft submitted in February was revised to reflect changes in state law, and includes an additional requirement that companies towing vehicles without the owner’s consent — that is, as a penalty for parking in a private lot — must hold a license from the city. The new draft also specifies that tow companies cannot set a flat maximum charge, but must adjust such fees based on vehicle size.

The council first addressed the issue in November 2012, largely in response to an April 2012 incident. Tualatin resident Rachel Engstrom claimed her vehicle had been towed from the Country Inn bar parking lot while she was picking up a food order from a neighboring restaurant. Engstrom felt the private lot was being monitored by employees of Portland-based Retriever Towing, and complained that her dog was inside the vehicle when it was removed.

The ordinance, passed during Monday’s council meeting, will require tow companies to “exercise reasonable care of any animal found to be in a towed motor vehicle,” and prohibits tow company employees from patrolling or parking within 1,000 feet of a private parking facility, or monitoring such lots by foot.

Companies are required to release the vehicle at the scene if the owner is present before the hook-up process is completed. Vehicles cannot be towed more than 10 miles from the parking facility.

In response to concerns about exorbitant reclamation costs, the city also limited basic towing fees. The maximum charge allowed for a passenger vehicle stored 24 hours or less is $295.

Councilor Joelle Davis confirmed the draft allowed vehicle owners to pay by cash or credit card. Previously, it was not uncommon for towing companies to require cash for vehicle retrieval.

The city sought the input of 15 area tow companies when drafting the ordinance.

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