When a parking war erupted last year between two adjacent restaurants in northern New Jersey, the battle resulted in a law which affects the rights of community associations to tow vehicles from their premises. In October 2007, Governor Corzine signed a new bill into law called the “Predatory Towing Prevention Act” (“Towing Act”) which primarily increases oversight of tow companies. While a law regulating tow companies may not seem relevant to your community association, if you want to tow vehicles from private property areas, it does have implications which could affect your ability to do so.
As expected, the Towing Act mainly regulates what tow companies must do and not do. One provision, however, directly addresses what a private property owner must do before removing a vehicle from its premises without the vehicle owner’s permission. A property owner may only cause removal of a motor vehicle parked on the property if certain signage is posted, the storage facility is a reasonable distance from the property, and the tow company complies with the Towing Act. The Towing Act further requires a tow company to obtain written authorization from the property owner for the tow.
The signage requirement of the Towing Act is burdensome and may be aesthetically undesirable. Signs which are at least 36 inches high and 36 inches wide must be installed “in a conspicuous place at all vehicular entrances to the property which can easily be seen by the public”. The signs must state the following:
- The purpose for which parking is authorized and the times during which it is permitted.
- That unauthorized parking is prohibited and unauthorized vehicles will be towed at the vehicle owner’s expense.
- The name, address, and telephone number of the towing company that will perform the towing.
- The charges for the towing and storage.
- The street address of the storage facility where towed cars can be redeemed and the times during which the vehicles may be redeemed.
If the required signs are not posted, a property owner may still tow vehicles parked (a) on a lot on which a single family home is located, (b) on a lot on which an owner occupied multi-unit structure of not more than six units is located, or (c) in front of any driveway where the motor vehicle is blocking access to that driveway. While legal arguments could be made that the first two exceptions should exempt many associations from the signage requirements, it is likely a tow company would still require compliance before removing vehicles.
A community association also must provide written authorization and have a representative present in order to get a vehicle towed. The Towing Act requires that a tow company obtain written authorization from the property owner (or its agent) and that the property owner (or agent) be present at the time the vehicle is towed to verify the alleged violation. A general written authorization is permissible for towing done outside of the property owner’s normal business hours or to remove a vehicle which blocks a fire hydrant or entrance to the property. Vehicles must be removed to a storage facility which is a reasonable distance from the property.
The Towing Act does not address the many obvious differences between community associations and a busy mall or restaurant parking lot. Community associations will often have very different reasons for towing vehicles than a retail center. A community association may tow a vehicle if the owner’s membership rights have been suspended for delinquency in the payment of maintenance fees or if a vehicle violates the rules in some way. Community associations also have more opportunities for communicating directly with vehicle owners than businesses serving a transient population and can give unit owners advance written notice of any actions or rules changes. Unit owners, as members of the community association, have the obligation to know and comply with the rules. Despite these differences, the Towing Act as currently written appears to apply to community association and it is not clear how it will ultimately be enforced.
What is clear is that the Towing Act is scheduled to go into effect in October 2008. If your community association uses towing services to remove vehicles from its private property, you will want to discuss the Towing Act with your towing company and ensure that the proper signage is posted. You should also be aware that there may be regulations established by the local municipality which apply to the removal of vehicles from private property. With any vehicle towing policy, legal counsel should always be consulted first to establish proper procedures.