So, déjà vu, guys. The Matrix has been altered. You know how 2013 Wisconsin Act 76 gave landlords new rights to tow vehicles on the rental property? We had Parking I, Parking II, and Parking III on this blog to explain those changes, especially as the Dept. of Transportation guidelines lagged behind?
A new round of emergency DOT rules went out on April 30, so here we are, looking at short-term changes, once again, to vehicle towing rules at rental properties. I don't want to give away the ending, but since this is another round of emergency regulations, it looks like we'll be back here again before this is done with.
(To be clear, we're aware that not everyone is dying to know about parking rules, but we've heard juuuuust enough stories of tenants waking up one morning to find their car, which they need to get to work, is gone without a trace, that we think this is the stuff that folks really need to know. Check out the tips at the bottom.)
DOT Changes As Of 4/30/15
- Fees went up. The towing company can charge more than in the September 2014 round of emergency rules. New correct fees are listed below.
Law enforcement notification. More rules were added about how the towing company has to notify law enforcement.
- Now, law enforcement agencies need to tell the local towing companies how they wish to be notified of towed vehicles, or the towing companies can call the non-emergency line of the local police department. If there is no local police department, then the non-emergency line of the local sheriff department is notified.
- The towing company must now tell the law enforcement agency: the name & phone number of the towing service, the location from which the vehicle will be removed, the address of the location to which the vehicle will be moved, a phone number of the location to which the vehicle will be moved.
- Law enforcement agencies need to keep all this information on file for at least 60 days.
- Sign locations. Now landlords are allowed to have signs at the entrance of the parking lot (saying that unauthorized vehicles will be towed). Before signs had to be visible in all the parking spots, and now landlords can choose to put signs at the entrances OR be visible in the parking spots.
Towing Basics from 2013 Wis. Act. 76
Landlords have new rights to tow vehicles on private property. These are the 2 scenarios:
- If the property does not have a properly posted sign indicating their policy, the landlord can have unauthorized vehicles ticketed by local law enforcement or parking enforcement and then have them towed at the owner's expense. Law is here.
- If the property has a properly posted sign indicating their policy, the landlord can have unauthorized vehicles towed at the owner's expense without having the vehicle ticketed. Law is here.
Summary: A landlord can now tow cars from rental properties, whether or not they put up a sign saying that they tow cars. The sign indicates whether or not the law enforcement has a right to ticket that car.
The little bits and pieces:
- When we say landlord, we mean the landlord, a manager, a maintenance guy, or anyone who is an "agent of the landlord." A real legal definition of landlord is here.
- The towing company must notify local law enforcement of the make, model, VIN number, and license plate number prior to removing it, otherwise they may not collect any fees for the service. Law enforcement agencies need tell the local towing companies how they wish to be notified of towed vehicles, or the towing companies can call the non-emergency line of the local police department. If there is no local police department, then the non-emergency line of the local sheriff department is notified.
- If the vehicle was stolen, the towing company may not remove it.
- The towing company can impound the car until the fees are paid.
- If requested by a property owner or agent, or a law enforcement or traffic/parking official, the towing company must release the personal property in the vehicle during regular business hours upon presentation of proper identification.
- If the fees are not paid or a written agreement entered into within 30 days, the vehicle can be considered abandoned and disposed of.
Changes from the New Dept. of Transportation Regulations:
Fees: A towing service may charge the vehicle owner actual costs related to towing and storage, but not to exceed the following amounts:
- $150 for any kind of tow (flatbed, hook and chain, wheel-lift, boom, or any other method). Wis. Trans 319.03(1)
- $25 per 24-hour period of outdoor storage. Wis. Trans 319.03(1)
- $35 per 24-hour period of indoor storage. Wis. Trans 319.03(1)
- $150 max for any other costs incurred by the towing service related to the removal or storage of the vehicle. (Formerly there were limits for specific costs, including "drop fees", "dolly fee for indoor structures and blocked vehicles" and an "uninsured relocation fee." Now these all seem to be a part of this $150 maximum) Wis. Trans 319.03(1)
- Municipal Service Fee: If the town wants a fee beyond those that the towing company charges, it cannot be more than $35. Wis. Trans 319.03(1)
- The landlord is not allowed to charge any fees for removing an unauthorized vehicle, according to these regulations.
Signs: In order for the sign to be "properly posted," all these things must be true:
- The sign must say that parking of unauthorized vehicles is not allowed (for example: "Private Property"). Wis. Trans 319.04(1)(a)(1)
- The sign must say that unauthorized vehicles may be towed (for example: "Tow-Away Zone"). Wis. Trans 319.04(1)(a)(2)
- For all signs erected after 2/1/2016, the sign shall be conspicuously colored and legibly marked with contrasting letters not less than two inches in height. Wis. Trans 319.04(1)(b)
- For all signs erected after 2/1/2016, there must be at least 4 feet from the ground/curb/parking surface to the bottom of the sign.
- It must be possible to see and read the sign from each parking space were unauthorized parking is not allowed AND the sign must be posted at each entrance to the lot. Wis. Trans 319.04(2)
Tips for tenants:
- Make sure that you have up-to-date contact information for your landlord.
- Write a letter to the address that you have for your landlord, telling them: 1. The best way to contact you, 2. the make and model of your vehicle, and 3. the make and model of vehicles that regularly visit you and park in your spot.
- If you are illegally towed, and you have a paper trail showing the vehicles that will be in your spot, then it will be easier for you to hold the landlord responsible for incorrectly towing your car. You'll have a basis to say that the car wasn't "unauthorized."
Tips for landlords:
- Before you start to tow vehicles, do you know the exact parking policies in your lease? If not, it's a good idea to look it up.
- If you intend to tow vehicles that are parked illegally on the rental property, in accordance with these laws, then it's a great idea to let tenants know exactly what your procedures will be. Send a letter in advance letting your tenants know: 1. How you will decide to tow tenants, and in what kind of situation, 2. Whether or not you'll contact the tenant prior to towing, so that they may have a chance to move their vehicle, and 3. That this is their chance to make sure that you have up-to-date vehicle information and contact information for each tenant.
Questions that remain:
- How does a towing company or a law enforcement agency decide whether or not a car is "not authorized to park" on the rental property?
Hi! Did you know that we aren't attorneys here at the TRC? And this isn't legal advice, either. If what we've written doesn't sound right to you, consult with someone you trust. A list of housing attorneys is available here.