It's The Law
Associations Can Tow Cars
Recently a friend of mine had a vehicle towed from our property without warning or anything after being parked for less than thirty (30) minutes on the side of our road. Does a homeowner association have authority to tow parked cars? Are there any statutes regarding this event?
Authority of a Homeowner or Condominium Association to arrange towing of parked cars depends on the powers and responsibilities of the association. Those powers and authority are found in the Declaration of Condominium, Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws for a Condominium Association and in Declaration of Covenants, Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws for a Homeowner Association.
Condominium Associations generally have authority to manage and regulate common elements and limited common elements, which usually includes driveway, parking spaces and all other parts of the condominium not inside individual units. That means a Condominium Association, through its Board of Directors, can adopt rules and regulations concerning parking.
Homeowner Associations vary in their authority. Some are as broad as a condominium, while others have limited scope of operation (i.e. landscaping). Unless the Homeowner Association has responsibility for maintaining, managing or operation of parking or parking related aspects of a development, the Homeowner Association likely has no authority to regulate parking or tow cars.
Assuming the association has responsibility or authority to manage parking, the association will have authority to arrange for towing of improperly parked cars unless that power is restricted or prohibited in the documents governing the association. Vehicle owners are provided some protection by Section 715.07 Fla. Stat., which governs towing of vehicles parked on private property. Perhaps the most important part of that statute is mandatory notice.
Unless the property is part of a single family residence, notice must be personally given to the owner or other legally authorized person in control of the vehicle that the area in which the vehicle is parked is unavailable and the vehicle is subject to being removed at the owner or operator's expense. In lieu of personal notice, a sign must be posted meeting the following requirements.
- The notice must be prominently placed at each driveway access or curb cut and, if no curbs or access barriers, must be posted not less than every twenty-five (25) feet of lot frontage.
- Notice must clearly indicate, in not less than two (2) inch high light reflected letters, that unauthorized vehicles will be towed at the owner's expense. The words "tow-away-zone" in not less than 4" high letters must be included.
- Notice must provide the name and telephone number of the person or firm towing or removing vehicles.
- The sign must be permanently installed not less than three (3) feet and not more than six (6) feet above ground level and must be on site at least twenty-four (24) hours before towing.
If the association meets the notice requirements, it can arrange towing of an improperly parked vehicle. Any towed vehicle must be stored at a site within a ten (10) mile radius in any county of a five-hundred thousand (500,000) population or more and within a fifteen (15) mile radius in other counties. The location radius is expanded to as much as thirty (30) miles if there are no services so located. The storage site must be open from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., have a permanently posted sign with a telephone number of where the operator of the site can be reached when closed and be available to reopen the site within one hour after being called.
The person or firm towing the vehicle must notify the local police department within thirty (30) minutes after completion confirming the storage site, make, model, color and license plate number of the vehicle and write the name of the person to whom the tow was reported on the trip record. The tow operator must stop, if in process of removing a vehicle, when a person seeks return of the vehicle and release the vehicle upon payment of a reasonable service fee, which may not exceed one-half of the posted rate for towing.
The towing company must keep on file with the local law enforcement agency a complete copy of current rates for such services and post the identical rate schedule at the storage site. The rate schedule must be in each contract with property owners or persons in control of property authorizing the removal of vehicles.
The tow company may enter the vehicle for purposed of towing, as long as it uses reasonable care. It is not liable for damage in accessing the interior unless it does not exercise reasonable care.
It gets worse. The tow company has a lien against the vehicle if it follows notice requirements under Florida Statutes. It must give notice to the registered owner, insurance company insuring the vehicle and anyone having a lien on the vehicle (i.e. bank) by certified mail within seven (7) business days after the date of storage of the vehicle. If the towing and storage charges are not paid within thirty-five (35) days for a vehicle more than three (3) years old or fifty (50) days for a newer vehicle, the tow company can sell the vehicle at auction.
The owner may file suit in county court within ten (10) days after the owner has knowledge of the location of the vehicle to determine if the vehicle was wrongfully taken or withheld. Upon filing that suit, the owner or lien holder can have the vehicle released by posting a bond equal to the amount of the towing and storage charges. But, that option is illusory to a person without the wherewithal to file suit or pay for a bond. The court may award damages and costs and attorney's fees in favor of the prevailing party. But, the tow company is exempt from a claim for damages if it towed at request of a person purporting and reasonably appearing to be the owner of the property from which the vehicle was towed and removal complied with Section 715.07 Fla. Stat.
If an association complies with the statute, vehicles are subject to being towed when they park in the wrong place. Even a good lawyer will be little help if statutory requirements are followed.
By: William G. Morris, Esquire
William G. Morris is an attorney with offices at 247 North Collier Boulevard on Marco Island, Florida. His practice covers a broad range of subjects, including civil litigation, real estate, business and corporate law, estate planning and probate, domestic relations and contracts. He writes this column periodically with respect to legal matters that frequently affect non-lawyers. The information contained in this column is not intended as legal advice and, of necessity, is generalized. For questions about specific circumstances, the reader should consult a qualified attorney.
Questions for this column can be sent to: William G. Morris, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax, (239) 642-0722 or
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