Towed from that lot? Law may be on your side

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By Megan James

Throughout the summer and early fall, plenty of area residents learned the hard way not to park in the Key Food lot, on Johnson Avenue, or the Staples lot, on Broadway, unless they planned to shop exclusively in the stores in those centers.

But many are still making the mistake: running across the street to an ATM or to pick something up at another store, only to return minutes later to find their vehicles have been towed. At a recent Community Board 8 traffic and transportation committee meeting, Saul Scheinbach presented a new defense for drivers frustrated by the tow trucks’ quick hook at area lots.

“People aren’t aware that the law is on their side,” he said.

According to New York City Adminstrative Code, tow operators cannot remove vehicles without written authorization from the property owner for each vehicle towed. That authorization must include the location, make, model, color and license plate number of each vehicle the company tows.

Jay Holtz, the manager at Dyckman Realty, the company that manages the Key Food lot, could not confirm whether the owner of that property has given written permission every time Riverdale Towing & Collision removes a vehicle.

Additionally, if the owner of a car about to be towed arrives at the scene before the tow truck has taken it away, the tow company is obligated to disconnect the car and let the owner remove it from the premises, charging a service fee of no more than half the regular towing charge.

“If you see them towing your car and you call them over, they have to stop,” Mr. Scheinbach said. “I’ve seen people screaming at the tow truck driver and they just drive away.”

Property owners are required to post a sign with the name, address and telephone number of the tow operator, the hours of operation for vehicle redemption and towing and storage fees, and the tow company must call the local precinct within 30 minutes of the vehicle’s arrival at a storage facility.

According to the city Department of Consumer Affairs, if a vehicle is removed from private property in violation of this section of the code, there is no charge to the owner of the vehicle and the violator is liable for all costs of removal and storage or any damage resulting from the tow.

“While the law does not specifically say if it is the tow company or the landlord that is liable, it is the tow company that must obtain written authorization to tow the vehicle,” said the department’s spokeswoman, Beth Miller. “If the tow company does not obtain the proper written authorization, they are in violation of the law.”

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