Imagine leaving your vehicle in the parking lot at the local strip mall, walking over to a business to conduct your shopping and discovering that it is no longer where you had left it when you return about 15 minutes later. My first thought would be that my vehicle had been stolen. This was not the case for a lady from Kelowna though. She had parked in stalls designated by a sign for one business and done her shopping at another. Her vehicle had been towed and she was now facing a significant towing bill and the inconvenience of recovering her vehicle which was now stored about 4 km away.
Needless to say, this lady was irate. The bill was $187 and she was having some difficulty conversing with both the business owner and the towing company. She had two questions for me and they were whether the tow was legal in the first place and if the bill was unreasonable.
Parking lots such as this one are a bit of an oddity. Firstly, they are private property and within reason and the law the property owner may use the property as they see fit. However, because the public has been invited to park there the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) sees it as being a highway and normal driving rules apply as well.
The MVA gives the property owner in a municipality authority to immediately remove any vehicle left parked on their property without consent. In this case, the business responsible for the parking space that this lady used chose to remove her vehicle because she failed to obtain their consent. The sign offered the use of the space only if she was a customer of that business.
If you look at the situation through the eyes of the business owner, it is a difficult decision. If your customers don’t find a convenient place to park they will not shop at your business. You are paying for specific parking spaces as part of your lease or because you have purchased that property to build your business on. If you have abusers towed, you can be almost certain that the person in charge of the vehicle will no longer be your customer either. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The towing company is not the villain here either, as long as their towing rate is a reasonable one. They are operating a business within the law and as long as they are satisfied that the request was a proper one should carry out the tow. One towing company that I spoke with requires that the business submit information on letterhead outlining their authority over the designated parking area and who the employees are that are able to authorize a tow. Unless that employee is present during the removal of the offending vehicle they will refuse the tow.
Is the fee reasonable? Due to the nature of the call, the towing company will generally make it a high priority, placing other pending work on hold. This treatment does justify a higher fee than might be charged if the removal could be conducted at the towing company’s discretion. Municipalities may choose to regulate towing rates through a bylaw, but if they do not, towing companies generally follow industry standard rates. Currently, towing rates for ICBC related work would suggest that at a fee of at least $100 plus any taxes would be appropriate for this situation. If dollies are needed because the tow truck cannot lift the drive wheel end or the vehicle is four or all wheel drive additional fees would apply. ICBC rates tend to be lower than industry standard.
As we have seen here, before you park in any municipal parking lot, it is wise to know what you are agreeing to before you lock your vehicle and walk away. You are there as a guest or have agreed to a contract for service. Failing to fulfil your end of the bargain may come at a price.
To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca
Constable Tim Schewe (Retired)