The State and Local Predatory Towing Enforcement Act introduced by congressmen Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) was added to an existing transportation bill as an amendment on Wednesday morning.
As it stands, federal law limits the ability of state and local governments to regulate the towing industry. The bill-turned-amendment would give them the ability to do so in an attempt to prevent predatory towing.
“State and local governments provide the best authority to regulate the towing industry and protect Virginians from unfair, predatory practices,” Rep. Beyer said in a press release. “We need more common-sense, consumer friendly solutions like this amendment to protect our constituents’ wallets.”
The predatory towing debate isn’t new to Arlington. The issue received national attention this past spring when ESPN sportscaster and WJLA alumna Britt McHenry was caught on camera losing her temper at an employee at Ballston-based Advanced Towing.
Shortly after the video of the incident was published online, Beyer’s bill was first introduced to the House.
In May, County Board Member Jay Fisette told ARLnow that under the legislation, he would support giving a towing veto to local businesses, requiring the owner’s approval before a vehicle is removed from their property.
The legislation Beyer’s bill would be amending, called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act or STRR Act, is expected to pass in the House of Representatives by the end of the week, according to the Congressman’s office.
The bill is nearly 600 pages long and would authorize more than $300 billion for transportation across the country. Specific plans for the funds include improving infrastructure, highway safety programs and public transportation.
According to The Hill, Beyer’s and Hollen’s amendment is one of nearly 300 up for debate by the House before voting on the STRR Act.
Mayra Perez said she got the news that her 9-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, Charlotte, had been killed while she was in Chicago making preparations for her wedding next month. She took the next flight home.
“Instead of picking out her flower girl dress I’m picking out an urn for her,” Perez said in a phone interview, her voice trembling. “This is the worst possible thing that could happen… we are beyond heartbroken.”
The incident happened around 5:00 p.m. on Friday, on the 1200 block of N. Herndon Street in Clarendon.
According to police, a dog walker who has numerous clients in The Clarendon Apartments had parked illegally in front of the building. Building management called Advanced Towing to tow the car, not realizing that it belonged to a popular dog walker who often parked there while walking dogs in the building.
“As the tow truck was towing the vehicle away, the dog walker approached the driver while walking three dogs,” according to Arlington County Police spokesman Lt. Kip Malcolm. “A conversation or argument occurs and the dog walker asks the driver to pull around so that he can discuss it with management. As the tow truck driver is pulling away, one of the dogs was struck by the back, driver’s side tire and subsequently died.”
John O’Neill, owner of Advanced Towing, said the dog walker was walking away when the tow truck began to move. Unknown to the driver, the dog was on an extended leash and ran under the wheel as the driver began to move, O’Neill said.
“The tow driver is a dog owner and was devastated when he realized the dog had been struck,” O’Neill said. The driver was distraught and was given the rest of the day off, he said.
Perez, however, said that she heard a different version of events from the dog walker and a witness. She blames Advanced Towing for her dog’s death.
“Our girl was not on an extended leash,” she said. “I have the leash and my girls DO NOT use extended leashes.”
“You see this tow company in our neighborhood constantly flying down the street,” she said of Advanced. “It’s lie after lie. I just don’t find it fair. We lost our family member.”
Police investigated the incident but no one was charged. Perez said she and her fiancee, Aakash Desia, are planning on speaking to an attorney.
“It’s been tough… it’s a life changing event,” said Desia. “This is the worst kind of negligence.”
Desia questioned why tow trucks don’t have camera on the sides in order to avoid accidents like this. Perez, meanwhile, is mourning Charlotte and lamenting that she didn’t bring her to Chicago with her, as she usually does. Matilda, Charlotte’s younger Yorkie sister, is also mourning her death.
“Charlotte was loved and spoiled beyond measure,” Perez said. “She will be greatly missed by the both of us and her sister.”
Congressmen Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) today reintroduced The State and Local Predatory Towing Enforcement Act, a bill they say would solidify state and local governments’ ability to end predatory towing practices.
As federal law currently stands, state and local governments are prohibited from regulating local towing industries. Though a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision is considered to have given local governments the ability to regulate those industries, the reintroduced bill would codify it and reduce some legal uncertainties.
An identical bill was introduced by former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), but died in the U.S. House of Representatives in February.
“Unfair and predatory towing practices take money out of our constituents’ wallets and strain their budgets,” said Rep. Beyer in a press release. “I am proud to join Rep. Van Hollen to provide our state and local governments with the authority they need to properly regulate this industry with common sense, consumer friendly towing protections.”
The predatory towing debate in Arlington has been revived as of late thanks to the national coverage of ESPN sportscaster Britt McHenry’s caught-on-camera rant against Ballston-based Advanced Towing. Despite the opportune timing, Beyer’s office says the high-profile incident did not have any impact on the congressman’s decision to introduce the bill.
Arlington County Board Member Jay Fisette has kept his eye on local predatory towing practices since 1999.
“Predatory towing is something I’ve thought about a lot,” Fisette says. “Next to cable, this has been the second-highest number of complaints [by residents].”
Fisette, who supports the bill, sees it as a way to help reinforce local governments’ ability to regulate predatory towing. “It’s always nice to have it in black and white where no one can challenge it,” he says.
For instance, Fisette says he’d like to give a towing veto to local businesses. “Have the property owner sign off on the tow before the tow company is allowed to remove the vehicle,” he says.
The end goal is to give drivers the confidence to park without fear of being towed at a moment’s notice.
“I try to create a community where people are able to park one time and go do five things,” Fisette says. “Walk to one store, walk to another, then go back to their car. I don’t want them moving five spaces down. It creates community, reduces congestion, and cuts down on pollution.”
John O’Neill, Advanced Towing’s owner, said he has received between 10 and 12 inquiries and new clients since the video leaked April 16, about double the company’s normal rate.
“New customer inquiries and acquisitions do increase when parking space poaching receives media notoriety,” he told ARLnow.com in an email. “Every new residential or commercial highrise being built in Arlington and surrounding areas engage towing services and there are a fair number of new projects being constructed. There are often more vehicles than available spaces in residential or multi-use settings causing parking to be an ongoing, popular topic.”
While Advanced Towing trucks may be getting busier, they won’t be towing cars away from the Hunan One Restaurant parking lot in Clarendon, at 3033 Wilson Blvd, where McHenry’s car was towed.
Hunan One General Manager Dale Jin told ARLnow.com yesterday that the restaurant’s building — a seven-story mixed-use structure with offices on top of ground floor retail — was recently sold to Carr Properties. When Carr Properties bought the building, it brought in Henry’s Wrecker Service to patrol the lot.
“We’re much happier now,” Jin said. “We complained for years about the towing company.”
O’Neill confirmed that Advanced no longer serves the lot, but said the change had “no connection whatsoever” with the McHenry incident
Hat tip to @6number6
Advanced Towing Featured on GMA — Complaints against Arlington’s Advanced Towing have gone national, again. This time, ABC’s Good Morning America ran a feature on “predatory towing,” featuring video of Advanced from local station WJLA. The video shows a car being towed from a shopping center lot on Columbia Pike after two women parked there and walked to a restaurant outside the shopping center. The tow was reportedly facilitated by a “spotter” in an unmarked car. [ABC News – WARNING: Auto-play video]
Fisette to Propose Towing Changes — Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette says he will recommend changes to the county’s Towing Advisory Board to “address complaints about the process.” The County is also going to consider requiring commercial property owners to sign off on each tow. However, Fisette says he will not propose outlawing towing “spotters.” Fisette said it’s not the government’s role to tell tow companies how aggressively they can enforce legal trespass towing. [WTOP]
Washingtonian: Arlington Utopia No More? — “Recent developments in Arlington suggest that its time as an urbanist’s utopia might be doomed,” writes Benjamin Freed on Washingtonian Magazine’s website. Freed cites the closing of Artisphere, the cancellation of Arlington’s streetcar project and, most recently, the indefinite postponement of Fresh Bikes’ Tuesday Night Rides. [Washingtonian]
Arlington Company Files for IPO — Ballston-based Evolent Health, developers of an electronic healthcare data platform, have filed for a $100 million initial public stock offering. Evolent has chosen the NYSE ticker symbol EVH. [DCInno]
Record No. of Arlington Runners in Boston — An “all-time record” of 116 Arlington runners are registered to participate in the 2015 Boston Marathon today. [InsideNova]
Vehicle Overturns in Ashton Heights — A vehicle “pinballed off two parked cars” and overturned near the intersection of 6th Street and N. Lincoln Street in Ashton Heights Sunday morning. [Twitter]
H-B No. 1 in Challenge Index — Three Arlington high schools have made the top 10 of the Washington Post’s 2015 Challenge Index of local public high schools. The H-B Woodlawn secondary program ranked No. 1, Yorktown ranked No. 6 and Washington-Lee ranked No. 10. [Washington Post]
Complaints Against Towing Co., Questions About Video — While ESPN reporter Britt McHenry serves out her suspension for berating an Advanced Towing employee in Arlington, there’s some push back against the towing company and the video it produced of McHenry’s mean-spirited remarks. NBC 4 notes that there have been 155 complaints to police against Advanced from 2012 to 2014. Us Weekly, meanwhile, gossips that “a source close to the situation” says the video was edited “to make it look like Britt has gone on a one-way tirade as opposed to being in a two-way verbal spat with someone.” [NBC Washington, Us Weekly]
Net Migration Negative for Arlington in 2014 — More people moved out of Arlington than moved in last year, according to new census estimates. Arlington’s net migration in 2014 was -1,520, compared to +2,004 in 2013. That follows a broader trend of slowing growth in the D.C. region, which is still growing thanks mostly to births. [Washington Post]
County Board to Pay School Delays Costs — The Arlington County Board, which in January put the brakes on a plan to build a new elementary school in South Arlington, pledged last week to “take the financial hit” for the project’s delay, which is expected to cost up to $2.1 million. The County Board rejected the plan to build a new elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School after residents raised concerns about traffic and the school’s impact on a nearby park. [InsideNova]
‘Enhanced Risk’ of Severe Weather Today — The National Weather Service says there’s an enhanced risk of severe weather in the D.C. area this afternoon, including a 1-in-3 chance of damaging wind gusts and hail. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Video of ESPN reporter and WJLA alumna Britt McHenry’s dealings with Advanced Towing after her car was towed from the Hunan One parking lot in Clarendon earlier this month has been leaked.
LiveLeak, an open-source video sharing platform, published the video today, which was promptly amplified by the sports site Deadspin. McHenry can be seen and heard berating the towing lot’s employee, insulting her education, teeth and weight. During the video, the employee warns McHenry “I’ll play your video, so be careful.”
On April 6, McHenry tweeted that she was towed from Hunan One’s parking lot. When we asked for clarification, she said she had been eating dinner at the restaurant and therefore was legally parked and, apparently, improperly towed. McHenry has since taken down her initial tweet.
With that story, we asked readers if tow companies were doing their job or preying on their customers. Of the 2,740 poll responses, 2,298 — 83.9 percent — answered “They’re mostly shady predators out to make a buck.”
After the video went viral on the Internet this afternoon, McHenry tweeted an apology.
“In an intense and stressful moment, I allowed my emotions to get the best of me and said some insulting and regrettable things,” she said. “As frustrated as I was, I should always choose to be respectful and take the high road. I am so sorry for my actions and will learn from this mistake.”
In Britt McHenry’s defense, the advanced Towing people are the most revolting company. Cash only and they don’t make change.
— Tom Bridge (@tbridge) April 16, 2015
The thing is: they taunt you the whole time you’re there instead of just charging your card and letting you go.
— Tom Bridge (@tbridge) April 16, 2015
Have been towed 4x by Advanced Towing, all from my home lot where I have permit. They held car hostage, had no time to argue, paid $135 4x.
— Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring) April 16, 2015
@971theticketxyt if you've ever seen Advanced Towing and the way they operate, you'd think Britt didn't go far enough.
— Kevin H. Watson (@Kevin_H_Watson) April 16, 2015
An ARLnow.com reporter went to Advanced Towing’s lot in Ballston this afternoon, and was given an email address to contact the owner. The owner has not yet responded to our inquiry.
Warning: Explicit language
Last week a driver with Advanced Towing hooked a car at the CVS parking lot on Columbia Pike, before realizing that there were children inside. The driver unhooked the car but the car’s owner still told his story to a local TV station.
Towing has historically been a hot topic in Arlington. Last year we reported that food delivery vehicles were being towed off private property by Advanced. In past years it was towing fee increases, towing disputes and crimes against tow companies that have made headlines.
Then, last night, more towing drama: ESPN sportscaster Britt McHenry had her car towed by Advanced during dinner in Arlington. She was not happy about it.
Just got towed after eating dinner at an establishment in Arlington. How corrupt is Advanced Towing?
— Britt McHenry (@BrittMcHenry) April 6, 2015
@ARLnowDOTcom in the Hunan parking lot, where I ate dinner. On a Sunday night!
— Britt McHenry (@BrittMcHenry) April 6, 2015
Apparently McHenry wasn’t the only television personality to be towed from that lot in Clarendon recently.
— Jummy ABC7 News (@JummyTV) April 6, 2015
Throughout it all, there’s typically a debate: are tow truck drivers predators who employ shady methods to tow your car away and collect your cash? Or are they simply doing the job that they’re hired to do: protecting private property owners from drivers who park on their lots against the property’s rules?
Inherent in that question is another question: when the towing company does mistakenly tow a car that parked without violating the rules, is it an honest mistake or a cynical “mistake.”
Putting aside the above cases in the Hunan lot, sometimes the emotions of being towed can cloud a simple fact: that you were, in fact, violating the property owner’s parking rules, no matter what was in the car or how short your intended stop.
What do you think?
Tow Driver Hooks Car With Kids Inside — A local dad is upset with Advanced Towing because one of its tow truck drivers hooked his car in the Columbia Pike CVS parking lot while two of his kids were still inside. The tow driver unhooked the car when he realized the children were there. The tow company owner said the car had tinted windows and the dad had parked at CVS but went to other businesses before returning to shop at CVS. [NBC Washington – WARNING: Auto-play video]
Hikers Rescued on GW Parkway — The Arlington County Fire Department, with an assist from the U.S Park Police Eagle 1 helicopter, rescued two hikers stranded on the rocks along the George Washington Parkway last night. [WUSA 9]
Officers Honored at CIT Awards — Several Arlington County public safety officers were honored last night for their extraordinary work to intervene in mental health crises. The officers are specifically trained to deal with mental health issues as part of Arlington’s Crisis Intervention Team program. [NBC Washington – WARNING: Auto-play video]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Car Towed With Dog Inside — A car was towed from a private parking lot in Arlington while the owner’s 8-year-old Golden Retriever was still inside. Car owner Jennifer Geisler said she didn’t know she was parking illegally while running a 20 minute errand. She took a cab to get her car back from Advanced Towing, then complained to local TV stations about the incident. [NBC Washington — WARNING: Auto-play video]
Arlington Nursing School Shut Down — The Virginia Board of Nursing has shut down the Medical Learning Center, an Arlington nursing school. The school’s students say administrators left them in the dark and they’re now out thousands of dollars while their nursing careers are in limbo. [WJLA]
Historical Society’s Future Ambitions — The president of the Arlington Historical Society says that in coming years the society hopes to hire a professional staff and establish a countywide “heritage center.” In the shorter term, the society wants to extend its reach and “introduce many more Arlingtonians to our shared local history.” [InsideNova]
‘Diner’ Scores Good Review — The stage adaptation of the movie Diner, which premiered at Shirlington’s Signature Theatre on Dec. 9, has received a glowing review from trade publication Variety. The show’s seven-week run at the 276-seat Signature has already sold out. [Variety]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
It took less than a minute, according to the witness who snapped the photo, above, last week.
An SUV with a Jimmy John’s delivery sign on the top pulls into the private parking area of an Arlington office building around noon. The delivery guy quickly makes his way to the lobby, dropping off a sandwich for a hungry cubicle dweller and hoping for a buck or two in return as a tip.
During the brief moments the delivery guy is inside, a tow truck from Ballston-based Advanced Towing swoops in, hooks the rear tires of the SUV and begins to drive off. The delivery guy is able to flag down the tow driver at the last second and pay the $25 “drop fee,” thus avoiding the $135 it would have cost to get his SUV back had it been impounded.
The witness is sympathetic to the delivery driver — “I worked in that industry in college and its already
hard enough to make money off tips” — and seems to think that this is an instance of a private towing company going rogue. It’s not. According to an Advanced employee, it’s legal and actually fairly common.
“In Arlington… we probably tow a delivery vehicle from just about every major food delivery business in the area at some point in time,” Paul Anderson, an administrative employee for Advanced Towing, told ARLnow.com. “There is no exemption for delivery vehicles… unless property owners ask for those to be exempted.”
In other words, if you park without authorization on private property — even if you’re delivering food, you leave your flashers on, go inside for just a few seconds, etc. — you can be towed. That is, unless the building owner specifically asks for an exemption.
Anderson said Advanced only “occasionally” gets complaints about towing delivery drivers. When they do, an employee explains ” that they were parked in an area they were not allowed to [park].”
So why would an office building owner want the poor fellow delivering sandwiches, pizza or Chinese food to one of the building’s occupants to be towed? Sometimes, Anderson said, it comes down to security — it wouldn’t be hard for someone with nefarious intentions to put a fake delivery sign on the roof of their car.
“Especially commercial buildings with government agencies, sometimes it’s a security issue,” he said. Given the number of government buildings in Arlington County, Anderson said Advanced has had meetings with the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security to discuss that very issue.
A bill introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) in the House of Representatives this week would clear the way for states and localities to take full legislative authority over regulating the towing industry.
Tow trucks were classified federally as “interstate carriers,” in 1994, putting its regulation under federal oversight, preempting state and local towing laws.
A year later, according to Moran’s office, Congress legislated away the regulatory body that oversaw the industry, leaving it vulnerable to predatory towing without consequences.
Moran’s bill, if passed, would remove the federal preemption and bring towing regulation fully under state and local control.
“Our state and local governments are the most logical places to regulate towing and many already have an established body of law in place to do so,” Moran said in a statement. “This bill would bring those laws back into effect by removing federal preemption and allow state and local governments the ability to establish common-sense, pro-consumer towing protections for their residents.”
Moran’s announcement of the bill — called H.R. 4131, the “State and Local Predatory Enforcement Act” — comes less than two weeks after Arlington passed a new set of towing regulations aimed at protecting car owners, while raising the trespass towing fee car owners must pay to $135.
Moran co-sponsored an amendment in 2005 that gave states and localities some towing oversight, but some governments were still open to liability with their towing laws. If Moran’s bill passes, that would no longer be the case.
“Representative Moran has long been a champion on this and many other issues important to state and local governments,” Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said in the press release. “Dating back to 1994, he has worked to make certain we have the ability to enact common-sense, pro-consumer trespass towing protections for our residents and visitors. Arlington County’s towing ordinance is in place and successful today because of his efforts, and we thank him for the introduction of this legislation to remove the last vestiges of federal preemption.”
The full text of Moran’s press release is after the jump. (more…)
The Board approved the motion on a 2-1 vote, with Board Chair Jay Fisette and Libby Garvey voting to approve and Walter Tejada voting against the motion. Board Member Mary Hynes had left the meeting earlier with an illness.
The fee increases from $125 — where it had been raised to from $115 in 2011 — to $135, which is the state maximum. As part of the state towing law, Arlington can enact higher towing fees, based on market rates, if they conduct a thorough study, which the Board has instructed county staff to do.
The ordinance also puts in place more stringent requirements for towing companies to document the vehicle’s location, reason for removal and condition before it’s towed, including taking pictures or videos.
Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill said the fee increase was necessary because Arlington is more costly to operate in than nearby jurisdictions. Advanced Towing is one of three towing companies with storage facilities in Arlington, according to Brian Stout, the county’s liaison to the Trespass Towing Advisory Board.
“It is more expensive to operate our business in Arlington than any other location in Virginia,” O’Neill told the Board. “We are close to the point of no return with regards to sustaining an Arlington-based towing firm.”
Tejada asked Stout if companies were required to give car owners information about filing a complaint and their right to inspect their vehicle before paying to get it out of the lot. The ordinance requires the towing company to post signs telling owners their rights, but does not require giving owners a pamphlet or some sort, Stout said. O’Neill said the sign is “the first thing you see” in his lot at 4000 5th Road N. in Ballston.
“I have information that’s not what the case is from residents who have complained to me about having been towed,” Tejada told O’Neill. “There is some predatory towing that’s still happening. I cannot support the motion because there are people who are still being victims of predatory towing, some of whom are low income who don’t even know they have a right to complain. I will cast a vote of ‘no’ on their behalf.”
A majority of the surrounding jurisdictions already have towing fees comparable to Arlington’s new structure, and some have additional penalties up to $50 for nights, weekends and holidays.
The county enacted its towing ordinance years ago after a long history of predatory towing. Fisette, the longest-tenured current Board member, was a part of drafting the original ordinance.
“When I joined the Board, we had tons and tons of complaints about the tow industry, and we had no regulatory authority,” he said. “Having gotten involved, I’ve always recognized that the industry is a need. We’re a compact, busy place with parking issues… The recommendation strengthen the requirements on the towing company. This isn’t only about raising the base fee, it’s balancing it out with becoming more clear on some of the rights of those who own the vehicles.”
Tomorrow, the Arlington County Board is expected to authorize a public hearing on a proposal to raise the trespass towing fee from $125 to $135, which is the maximum allowed under state law after the General Assembly raised the limit last year. The fee is charged by local towing companies that are contracted to tow vehicles from private parking lots.
The county raised the towing fee from $115 to $125 in 2011 by a 3-2 vote, with Walter Tejada and Chris Zimmerman — who will be voting tomorrow in his final meeting as a Board member — opposing the increase. Tejada said at the time the increase was “a very significant hit” for those on fixed incomes. Current Board Chair and Vice Chair Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes voted in favor of the increase along with now-state Sen. Barbara Favola.
The Trespass Towing Advisory Board made the recommendation at its December meeting, along with recommendations that towing services add a $25 surcharge for towing on weekends, holidays and between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. on weekdays. However, County Manager Barbara Donnellan recommends against allowing the fee.
Among the other proposed changes to the towing ordinance would be more stringent requirements for towing companies to document the vehicle’s location, reason for removal and condition before it’s towed, including taking pictures or videos. The TTAB recommended against requiring tow truck drivers to document the vehicle’s condition before its towed, since damage from towing is “a civil matter and is not adjudicated under the towing ordinance,” according to the staff report. County staff feels that it’s “important to underscore that the towing and recovery operator is responsible for documenting the condition of the vehicle.”
If approved, the ordinance would exempt vehicle owners from the towing fee if the towing service doesn’t adhere to the regulations.
The public hearing is expected to be scheduled for Feb. 22. The County Board would still need to vote on the ordinance amendment itself at a subsequent meeting in order for it to go into effect.
The incident happened around 10:45 this past Friday night. According to police, the tow truck driver — who was working for a private company, not Arlington County — was in the process of towing a vehicle from the 2900 block of S. Glebe Road for a parking permit violation when the vehicle’s owner approached him.
“The subject pulled a pistol on him forcing the victim to release the car,” according to the police report. “The subject fled the scene and was located a short time later by police.”
Arlington County Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said Woodbridge resident William Eugene Jones Jr., 36, was spotted by officers close to the original crime scene after a lookout was broadcast.
Jones Jr. was arrested and charged with robbery, use of a firearm in committing a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, brandishing and possession of a concealed weapon. He was held without bond.