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City to tackle towing rules

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

The City Council agreed to move ahead with new rules for towing companies in Denton, after hearing a brief presentation from the police department Tuesday afternoon.

A comprehensive ordinance would tackle a bit more than just the fees that towing companies could charge when moving a car or truck without the owner’s consent, according to police Capt. Scott Fletcher. He recommended a comprehensive set of rules after reading ordinances adopted by many other Texas cities.

Some of the new rules already apply to those companies that tow for the police department, he said. The companies that rotate for the city’s business — to clear an accident scene, for example — must register with the city, meet minimum insurance requirements and have all their drivers submit to background checks.

Those requirements would apply to all towing companies operating in the city under a comprehensive ordinance, Fletcher said.

In addition to limiting fees, Fletcher said, the city could also limit where a vehicle could be towed.

“You could require that they tow to a vehicle storage facility within the city limits,” Fletcher said, by way of an example. Alternatively, they could limit the distance to a certain number of miles.

The city could also set minimum standards for items such as parking lot striping and signage in order to make sure it’s clear to drivers what is needed in order to park in a private parking lot.

The council could consider a requirement that the property owner, or property representative, be present for all tows, Fletcher said.

Council member Jim Engelbrecht said he wasn’t sure that would be practical, since he knew of at least one church that contracts for towing after midnight in order to keep its downtown parking lot clear.

But council member Kevin Roden said he wanted to continue to explore the option.

“It may be inconvenient, but if we are towing someone’s property, we want to look at that,” Roden said.

Fletcher also recommended the city consider a “towing bill of rights,” similar to the one established in Austin, so that drivers can know how to defend themselves against a questionable tow or report violations of state or local rules.

Currently, Denton doesn’t have local rules for non-consensual tows. Tow companies can, and often do, charge the maximum fees allowed by the state to Denton drivers.

Investigations by the Denton Record-Chronicle and a group of concerned citizens have uncovered predatory practices, including seniors having their cars towed from the gated lot of their apartment building and apartment dwellers having their car towed because their tire was on the line.

Fletcher cautioned the council that the city would have to do a fee study so that any fee limits the city sets represent the fair value of the towing services and are reasonably tied to real numbers. And he said the city needs to outline how fee studies would be handled in the future, particularly in the cases where towing companies believe a new one is needed.

The council is expected to appoint an ad hoc committee to make recommendations for a comprehensive ordinance. Fletcher recommended that the committee include citizens, towing operators, property owners with towing contracts and representatives of the city staff, such as the police department, code enforcement and the city attorney’s office.

No time frame was announced for the committee’s creation.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.