You can’t believe your luck: It’s a Friday night, and you’re heading with your family for dinner in an amazing new downtown Indianapolis restaurant. Instead of spending twenty minutes searching for parking and shelling out an obscene amount of money for a space, you find a free parking lot just a block from the restaurant.
You look for any signs or payment boxes that will prove it’s really too good to be true, but there are none. So, you and your loved ones enjoy some phenomenal ambience, cuisine, and service, then you stroll back to the lot with a grin on your face…only to discover that your car has been towed.
It’s a nightmare scenario that too many of us have experienced. How can you retrieve your vehicle from a business that doesn’t reopen until Monday? How can you be sure your vehicle will be returned to you, intact? Was it even legal for your car to be towed?
The good news is, in Indianapolis, there are unlawful towing laws to give you legal recourse against illegal towing. Let’s take a look at these laws and the steps you can take if you’re a victim of unlawful towing.
U.S. towing facts
In 2022, automobile towing in the U.S. is an $11.3 billion industry. Between 2017–2022, the market has grown at an average of 5.9% annually. An additional growth increase of 2.9% is anticipated in 2022. A quick Google search reveals over 200 towing companies are located in Indianapolis alone.
Tow trucks provide a necessary service—a towing company can help us when our vehicles malfunction and provide us with safe transportation to an auto repair shop. At times, people do park illegally in private parking spaces, and their cars should rightfully be towed. However, automobile towing is a lucrative industry, and sometimes, vehicles are unlawfully towed.
Unlawful towing laws
Sections 995-302-307 of the Indianapolis (and Marion County) Code of Ordinances sets up unlawful towing laws to help protect your parking rights. It’s helpful to understand these laws so that you can retrieve your vehicle and understand what legal avenues you may be able to pursue if your vehicle is unlawfully towed.
Here’s what the laws say:
- In order for a tow to be legal, a parking lot owner or an authorized agent of the owner must have presented written authorization to a licensed towing company. This is not a pre-signed form, but rather detailed authorization written on the day of the tow.
- Authorization must include the year, make and model, vehicle identification number (VIN), and license plate number of the car. The address of the parking lot must also be included.
- A written signature of the parking lot owner or authorized agent must be on the tow ticket, which should also include the date and time of the tow.
- The parking lot owner is liable if any damages are incurred due to improper towing.
- The specific reason for the tow must be clearly stated on the tow ticket.
- Photographic or video documentation must be made available if the tow is contested.
- All parking lot signs must be posted within plain view of any entrances and exits.
- A vehicle can also be towed if it’s parked in a way that could restrict the normal operations of businesses.
- If a parked vehicle violates codes, city, or state law, it can be towed.
- If a tow business or parking lot owner is found to violate federal, state, or city law, they can be held liable for an unlawful tow.
- “Booting” a vehicle to hold it for towing is unlawful.
- Towed vehicles must be directly towed to a storage facility owned or leased by the towing company: A towed vehicle can’t be dropped off in a random location—even temporarily.
- A tow lot or storage area must be within a 15-mile radius of the original tow.
- A towed car must be available to be claimed within an hour of the tow, and must be returned to its owner immediately after applicable, lawful fees are paid.
- It is illegal for a tow company or parking lot owner to prohibit vehicle owners from retrieving personal items from their vehicles, and they cannot charge a retrieval fee.
- The maximum fee for a tow in Indianapolis is $150.
- The daily fee for a towed vehicle on an impound lot cannot exceed $30 and cannot begin until 24 hours have passed from the original tow.
- A tow company cannot deny vehicle release based on proof of insurance.
- If your vehicle has been unlawfully towed, you are entitled to recover any damages or fees incurred.
- A tow company can’t pay or rebate money to a parking lot owner. (In other words, they can’t hold an exclusive deal with a parking lot based on number of tows, etc.).
- If you see your vehicle being loaded onto a tow truck but it hasn’t yet been towed, you can request that your vehicle be released. If your car is still on the ground, the release can’t be questioned, and you won’t be charged. However, if at least two tires are already loaded on the tow truck, you may have to pay up to half of the normal towing fee.
Sections 995-306 and 995-307
The last two sections of the Indianapolis unlawful towing ordinances further protect vehicle owners. Section 995-306 states that excluding holidays, impound and storage car lots must have vehicles available for retrieval by owners 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
This section also mandates that towing companies are available via phone for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If a towing company’s storage facility closes at any time, the company can’t charge vehicle owners for lot time accrued while the storage lot was closed. A vehicle owner must also be given an accurate receipt with detailed information about the tow and an itemized breakdown of all fees.
Section 995-307 expands on the necessity of itemized tow records and requires that towing companies keep all tows on record for at least two years.
Should you retain an attorney if you’ve been unlawfully towed?
If you’ve been a victim of an unlawful towing in Indianapolis, you may need to retain an attorney to help settle your claim. If your vehicle suffered damage during the tow or when on the impound lot, you shouldn’t have to foot the bill for repairs.
You may have faced unjust towing fees and storage charges which put a dent in your finances. Try settling your dispute with the towing company first; however, filing a claim with the courts may end up your best bet to recoup your losses and retaining an attorney may be a vital part of the process.
At Yosha Law, we are passionate about our clients, and consider them part of our family. We will help with your personal injury claim and fight for what you’re owed.