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Anchorage leaders consider towing crackdown

Posted: November 11, 2013 - 12:01am

ANCHORAGE — Two Anchorage Assembly members are reviving an effort to crack down on city towing companies.

Assemblymen Dick Traini and Paul Honeman are drafting a new ordinance that’s intended to make towing more “humane” for drivers, The Anchorage Daily News reported in Saturday’s newspaper. The idea is being revived after failed efforts in 2008 and 2011.

Traini and Honeman want to set limits on towing companies’ charges, toughen enforcement of towing laws and make it easier for people whose cars are improperly towed to get their fees reduced or cut.

The city ombudsman’s office gets more than 100 calls each year from people who have had their cars towed — many of whom complain about how costly it is to get them back.

Assembly members have long recognized the need for a fix to the city’s towing laws, which they say are inadequate to protect people against unscrupulous companies that do “nonconsensual tows” of cars parked illegally on private property.

City officials say that some companies demand payment in cash and that others have been known to charge as much as $450 for a weekend impound, plus added fees to release a car after hours. One even charged extra if you swore at them.

“Nonconsensual tows are a problem in this town,” Traini said. “It’s harvest time — let’s see how many cars we can take.”

There are currently 12 licensed tow operators on file with the municipal clerk’s office, including five that tow from private property.

Some of the companies are fair and “follow the code to a T,” said Darrel Hess, the city ombudsman.

They also do important work, said Glen Bailey, who owns Alaska Towing and Wrecking, which patrols the lot at City Hall. He charges $150 for a nonconsensual tow, which he said was simply providing a service for a private property owner.

“If there wasn’t towing companies, there would be a lot of problems,” Bailey said.

But Bailey acknowledged that there may not be any industry with a worse reputation than his. That stems from companies that charge higher fees or don’t follow rules about posting signs on the property they tow from, he said.

The new ordinance will set a $235 cap for nonconsensual towing, which could move up with inflation, according to Traini and Honeman.

It would also allow drivers to contest the fees in an administrative hearing, Traini said. That’s easier than taking a towing company to small claims court, he added, which is the only legal recourse that exists now.

The new ordinance is being drafted and will be released in about two weeks, Traini said. He and Honeman haven’t yet consulted with industry representatives, but they’ll be able to give recommendations when the new measure comes before the Assembly, Traini said.

“We’re more than happy to talk to them,” he said.

Bailey said that a rewrite of the city code wouldn’t work unless it came with more enforcement. He was frustrated to hear that his only opportunity to weigh in would come when the measure comes before the Assembly.

He said that the city doesn’t do a good job of policing the laws that are in place now, like those requiring signs to be a certain size and for official municipal stickers to be placed on tow trucks.

“There’s no enforcement on who can do impounding and how they do impounding, and that’s the main problem,” Bailey said.

Traini said that the new ordinance would toughen enforcement, but didn’t specify how.

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