Sunrise vows stiffer fines for illegal tows

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Susannah Bryan

Published June 16, 2013


SUNRISE -- Tow truck drivers who break the city's rules against predatory towing would face fines up to $15,000 -- perhaps the highest in the region -- under a new ordinance proposed by the commission.

The plan won tentative approval Tuesday.

Commissioners were prompted to increase fines partly in response to reports that tow truck companies are breaking tougher rules enacted more than a year ago by both Sunrise and Broward County.

A Sun Sentinel investigation published May 26 found tow companies were in flagrant violation of the tougher rules.

Sunrise was the first to crack down on tow companies after a towing frenzy during the Black Friday shopping holiday at Sawgrass Mills mall in late 2011. More than 350 cars were hauled away, sparking public outrage.

"We put out an ordinance that provide greater protection," Mayor Mike Ryan said of the stiffer fines. "We now need to get this out to the [homeowner] associations and the tow companies to let them know this is coming, so there is no excuse."

Ryan suggested first-time violators receive a mandatory fine of $1,000. Repeat violators could see fines of $2,500 to $5,000. And those with violations that are irreversible or irreparable would be fined up to $15,000.

Under the current law, wayward tow companies could face fines up to $500 and/or 60 days in jail. First-time violations carry a $100 fine while second-time violators can be fined $250.

Commissioner Larry Sofield asked whether the city would be able to divert some of the money it collects to victims.

"The city gets $15,000, but the victim gets nothing," Sofield said. "The whole purpose of bringing this up was so the victim could get restitution."

Sunrise does not currently have a way to grant restitution to towing victims, but it might be possible to create a fund for that purpose, Assistant City Attorney Tom Moss said.

"I haven't seen any other cities that have done anything like that," he said. "I've looked at other municipalities and I haven't seen any that have such a fund or an account. I also don't see anything preventing it. It may fall under our home rule powers."

The new rules required tow companies to accept checks and credit cards; provide change; get permission from the property owner for each tow; not remove a car if its owner returns before the vehicle is connected to a tow truck; and reduce the tow charge by half if the owner returns to the scene before the car is removed.

Last week, Broward commissioners said laws on the books now are not stopping unscrupulous tow companies. They plan to tighten county laws by the fall.

Towing abuses in Broward still rampant