Towing Companies Sue Seattle For Right To Charge More Than $183/Hour

The city of Seattle recently enacted an ordinance that would put a cap on towing an impound fees, but apparently $183 for the first hour of a tow followed by $130/hour after that is not enough for the tow companies of the King City, which have filed suit to stop the city from enforcing the cap.

The Seattle Times reports that some drivers whose cars are towed off private property are seeing bills that cross the $800 mark, with some going as high as $2,000. The highest hourly rate for a tow it could find was $650/hour. All that is required by Washington state law is for tow companies to post their rates with the state’s Dept. of Licensing.

So on Nov. 1, the new caps went into effect, limiting how much tow companies could charge customers for tows to impound lots.

“The big problem with what the City Council did is that it’s pre-empted by state law. What the city should have done is go to the state and change the law,” a lawyer representing the Towing and Recovery Association of Washington explains.

In fact, the city did lobby the state — unsuccessfully — for a flat cap of $250 on towing rates.

City Councilman Nick Licata, who introduced the bill along with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn says he’s not surprised by the lawsuit because the towing industry was so vocal in its efforts to block state-level legislations.

“It’s unfortunate that some in the towing industry will oppose this reasonable and fair approach to regulating their industry,” he tells the Times. Licata also said that the Council worked with the City Attorney’s Office when crafting the towing caps in order to create an ordinance that would stand the inevitable court challenge.

The towing companies argue that state and federal law pre-empt the city from enacting more restrictive regulations. They say that the Seattle law is inconsistent with the state’s and that, if other cities follow suit and enact their own particular caps, towing companies would have to juggle a variety of varying ordinances.

The city points out that there is no language in the state or federal laws that prohibit a city from putting limits on towing fees.

Thanks to Paul for the tip!

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.