Citizen complaints about aggressive towing practices are prompting Davenport’s legal department to write an ordinance dealing with companies that perform “non-consensual” tows.
Currently, the city has only antiquated ordinances, which aren’t enforced because of concerns about conflicts with the federal Motor Carriers Act, Davenport Corporate Counsel Tom Warner said.
The new ordinance likely will set the maximum fee for non-consensual tows, require insurance for tow companies, regulate where lots can be located and hours of operation, limit storage fees, require the towing companies to inform the police department of each tow and regulate the size and location of “private parking” signs in private lots.
Warner said he is researching ordinances from other cities and states to find reasonable rules. He will also ask for input from any company that does non-consensual tows before bringing a draft ordinance before the city council, likely late this month or in early February, he said.
Aldermen have heard more grumbling from residents and officials from DavenportOne about the cost of non-consensual tows, alleged aggressiveness on the part of tow drivers working on contract and accusations that one towing company in particular — Action Towing — “ambushes” unsuspecting drivers and hauls away their cars within moments of parking in private spots.
However, downtown apartment managers and residents are worried that too-tight regulation could turn their private lots into free-for-alls. And Action Towing owner Dan Wallace believes he is being unfairly targeted by a vengeful mayor.
At a recent City Council meeting, Mayor Bill Gluba exhorted the legal department to draw up a towing ordinance as soon as possible, and specifically called out Action Towing for its business practices.
“They’ve worn out their welcome as far as I’m concerned,” Gluba said. “We’re not going to let jackals run our city.”
Wallace said the comment is out of line and said his rates — $149.54 plus tax for towing two-wheel-drive vehicles, $200 for four-wheel-drive SUVs, and $25 per day storage fees for cars not picked up by noon the next day — are fair and just enough to help him make a little bit of money.
“The mayor called me a jackal, and that’s not fair,” he said. “Some nights we make money, some nights we don’t. The guy doesn’t know me from Adam.”
If the city makes the regulations too tight, no one will be willing to enforce parking rules in private lots, he warned.
“It takes away the right of a property owner to remove vehicles from their property,” he said. “Towing companies will not deal with the hassle if they can’t make money.”
As far as Action Towing “stalking” lots in order to pounce quickly, Susan Graham, manager of the Landmark Apartments at 341 Main St., said you can blame her for that.
She fired her old towing company and hired Action specifically for its aggressiveness because her tenants were often waiting up to an hour to be able to park in the private spots they pay for.
“I told (Wallace) I would give him the job if he would keep my lots clean for my tenants,” she said. “From our perspective, the people who park in private spots are being rude and obnoxious to us.”
While its detractors agree that Action is acting within the boundaries of the law, they question the ethics of its business practices. Specifically, they accuse the company of being secretive about its lot location (a desolate industrial parcel on South Rolff Street) and refusal to allow people who made an honest error to drive out of a lot, even if they arrive before the vehicle is attached to a tow truck.
Over the past year, Davenport police have been dispatched to the company’s west-side lot 17 times, the majority of times to resolve disputes between angry vehicle owners and tow drivers.
Kristy Bennett came out of Mac’s Tavern on 2nd Street in May to find her car had been towed from the lot in back of Kilkenny’s. She acknowledges that she didn’t see the private parking sign but said she couldn’t believe how rudely she was treated by Action staff. She also accused the company of “making up” different charges to retrieve vehicles on a whim.
The police ended up being called after she took pictures of one of the drivers after she gave him the cash for her car. She claims the driver refused to release her vehicle until she gave him the camera and kicked her off the property.
“I called the police because they wouldn’t give me my car. It was basically a standoff,” she said. “It was all just very shady. They were basically pulling in cars left and right and making up prices. I admit I parked in a no-parking spot and I’m not going to say I didn’t deserve to get towed. But that doesn’t make their practices right. I think these people are out of control, and the city needs to get it under control.”
According to the police report, officers were able to resolve the dispute and get Bennett her car back. However, they also warned her to leave private property when asked and chastised her for lying to an officer when she told him she hadn’t taken any pictures.
That incident is a good example of the subjectiveness of determining what constitutes “aggressive” enforcement and what is “predatory,” Graham said.
She noted that during the Bix street festival, her staff put up wooden barricades across the Landmark’s lot entrance to deter illegal parking. The result? Drivers moved the barricades and parked in clearly marked private spots anyway.
“The city just doesn’t seem to care about our problem,” she said. “They can’t ticket anybody who parks here because it’s a private lot. They can’t tow anybody because it’s a private lot. Then, when we try to take care of it ourselves, they have a problem with it.”