‘Preying on the poor’: Towing company accused of violating city ordinance

'Preying on the poor': Towing company accused of violating city ordinance

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A local attorney claims tow companies in Memphis are preying on the poor, and he said they've gotten away with it for too long.

The city permits office heard several complaints at a hearing Tuesday. All of them were against PB&J Towing.

Cameras weren't allowed inside, but people privy to the hearing had plenty to say after it wrapped up.

"These are vulnerable people that don't have a lot of money," said former city attorney John Marek.

Marek never expected to be taking on an entire Memphis industry.

However, he said after PB&J towed his girlfriend's car from a parking lot near the University of Memphis last spring, he couldn't stay silent.

Marek said it was only after he paid the tow driver $125 that he realized he shouldn't have.

"There was no signage at the parking lot in the entrance way as required by law and there was no signage in the spot we parked in front of," Marek said.

Marek accused tow companies, specifically PB&J, of breaking city ordinances routinely by towing cars from areas where there's no clear signage warning drivers.

"When you don't have proper signage, and when you violate the ordinance and you're targeting primarily poor people and college students, then yeah, that's predatory towing in my book," Marek said.

He argued his case before the city permits office, which also heard other complaints against PB&J.

"If in fact someone has been wronged we will refund their money," PB&J employee Issac Herron said.

Herron said the company is being unfairly targeted.

"We're being targeted mainly because city officials have had and have been given this impression that we're somehow operating outside what we should be doing, but we're not," Herron said.

Herron said it's the responsibility of property owners to make sure there's signage, not the towing company.

Marek said he hopes the permits office administrator, who heard his case and others, will fine PB&J and issue a citation.

"We have an ordinance in place," Marek said. "I just want to see tow truck companies across the city actually follow them."

The administrator plans to make his ruling in the next couple of days.

The city ordinance is as follows:

Sec. 6-88-15. - Private property tow authorization.

A. Wrecker service operators shall comply with all federal, state, and local laws concerning the towing of vehicles from private property, including, but not limited to, T.C.A. §§ 55-16-112 and 66-28-518.

B. The owner or person in lawful possession of private property, including an apartment complex or condominium association, may cause the removal of a vehicle parked on the property in compliance with applicable law; however, there must be displayed, in plain view at all entrances to the property, a sign not less than 18 inches by 12 inches in size, with lettering not less than one inch in height, prohibiting public parking and indicating that vehicles will be removed at the vehicle owner's expense, and containing the telephone number of the city police department report center and the name and telephone number of each towing company that is a party to a written general towing authorization agreement with the owner or person in lawful possession of the property. The sign must also indicate that a citation may also be issued for the violation. On a development with an integrated center sign or a complex sign as permitted under the Unified Development Code, a sign of the same size, information content, and lettering size may be placed and maintained on the integrated center sign or complex sign in lieu of at every driveway entrance to the property.

C. Prior to the removal of towing a vehicle (or personal property) from private property by a wrecker service without the owner's consent, the towing company must have express written authorization for the towing of that vehicle (or personal property) from the owner of the private property, property manager, or designated agent. When an individual is designated by a private property owner to act as an agent to authorize towing from the property, such designation must be in writing, signed by the private property owner, notarized, and filed with the permits office. Such designation shall name the wrecker company used by the property owner. A wrecker company may perform a periodic audit as part of a contractual agreement with a private property owner for the purpose of identifying vehicles on the property which may be inoperable or defective. The existence of such an arrangement shall be disclosed on the designation described above filed with the permits office which states the name of the private property owner's agent to authorize towing, wrecker company used, and list of violations that will cause a vehicle to be towed without consent from the owner's property. Contractors or written agreements between a towing company and private property owners for non-consensual towing must be retained by the towing company, and must include the property owner's signature and the signatures of any agents designated by the private property owner, a copy of which must be available for inspection by the city police department and/or permits office upon request.

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