Doesn’t it make you crazy when people double park and you can’t get through; or, when you can’t find a parking spot at your doctor’s office because people from the next building are illegally parked there? It’s a good thing there are tow trucks that can be called to address this problem. Unfortunately, however, there are some bad actors out there who are abusing their license to tow cars in order to commit crimes. And, for some reason, the Police Department doesn’t think it is their responsibility to get involved.
I had never heard of Predatory Towing until last summer—when I became a victim. One night we went to watch our college-age son play basketball in a men’s league in Westbury. We found what we thought was a great parking spot in the lot fronting the facility. When we came out, our car and half a dozen others were missing. Turns out there was a small, hidden ‘no parking’ sign and the cars had been towed to a private lot around the corner that was unrelated to the towing operation; and the tow truck driver was demanding $170 in cash if we wanted our vehicle that night. The police—five officers and a lieutenant—who arrived after I called 911 strongly advised everyone to pay (now reduced to $135) and offered to drive those who didn’t have the cash to an ATM machine. We later found out that the tow truck operator had violated dozens of NYS and Town laws that are specifically intended to protect citizens from Predatory Towing.
In sharing our story with friends, family and colleagues, I was surprised to find that nearly everyone had a story to share. One particularly egregious scam involved a woman who attempted to retrieve her car but could not find where it had been towed for weeks. When she finally found it, the tow operator demanded thousands of dollars in “storage” fees. It was an old car that was worth less than the price demanded, so she let the tow operator “keep” the car. Why isn’t this considered car theft?
We have a problem on Long Island. How big is the problem? That’s hard to say because most people just pay the tow truck driver in cash because they need their car to get home to their kids or to get to work, or because they are afraid to fight back. Indeed, I watched the tow truck driver pocket upwards of $800 that night from these young men. And apparently, this “wild west” scenario also extends to public streets—most often scenes of accidents—where people involved in horrific car crashes can find themselves also victims of Predatory Towing, costing them thousands in towing, repair and storage services.
Fortunately, the Town of Hempstead is taking action. On March 10, the Town Board held a public hearing on draft legislation aimed at tightening their towing ordinance and empowering citizens. The bill would, among other things, clarify that tow truck drivers must accept credit cards at all times, require a Victim’s Hotline be added to towing signs and require that the parking lot owner be present and request in writing that the car be towed. What the legislation doesn’t do is fill the enforcement gap. That will be up to the Police Department and the County, and the Town is also working to get their cooperation.
Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and her able staff should be commended for their hard work on this important legislation. But unfortunately, lawyers representing the towing industry asked the Town Board to indefinitely delay action. And, apparently, this isn’t the first time Hempstead has attempted to tighten the towing ordinance before it got tabled. The latest word is that the bill could be up for a vote as early as April 28. The Town Board should move the legislation forward expeditiously and vote in support of the bill; and they should also encourage the Town’s effort to get the Police and County fully on board. With this legislation and Supervisor Murray’s leadership, the town is poised to lead the way for other municipalities and, as a result, protect hundreds of Long Islander from unscrupulous tow truck operators.