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Assemblyman: Companies still illegally towing poor people’s cars, despite 2021 law


by April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current

Nevada lawmakers two years ago made it illegal for towing companies to remove cars from apartment complexes and homeowners association neighborhoods solely for having expired registration.

But Assemblyman C.H. Miller (D-North Las Vegas) says it is still happening, especially to people in low-income communities. So he is back in the current legislative session with what he is describing as a “clean up” bill designed to tamp down on creative interpretations of the existing law, which he says some towing companies are using to justify the towing of vehicles and the fees charged to their owners.

The bill, Assembly Bill 303, on Friday passed the Assembly on a 28-14 partisan vote, with all Republicans in opposition. It is now headed to a Senate committee for consideration.

In 2021, the Nevada State Legislature passed with bipartisan support a bill that made it illegal to tow a vehicle from an apartment complex or common interest community, like a neighborhood with an HOA, simply for having expired plates. The bill was a response to what Miller and groups like the ACLU of Nevada described as predatory practices that spiked during the covid pandemic. Cars were being towed — and their owners were stuck with fees — for not displaying the proper registration sticker, even if those cars were properly registered but simply waiting for a new registration sticker to arrive in the mail. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles at the time was experiencing processing delays due to the pandemic.

Miller told an Assembly committee earlier this month that, after hearing “multiple complaints” from constituents saying towing companies are still removing lawfully parked cars over registration issues, he went with one man as he attempted to retrieve his car.

Miller said that man was charged an “impound fee” rather than a storage fee, which would be illegal to charge in the first 48 hours of being towed, according to the provisions established two years ago.

“I was asked to leave the property or be trespassed (for) questioning whether or not you should be charging an impound fee when it was clearly a storage fee,” added Miller. “You had changed your intent. You had reinterpreted the law to make it fit what you wanted to do.”

This year’s AB 303 clarifies that a tow company cannot charge any fee or cost for towing a vehicle solely because it has expired license plates. Tows must be prompted for legitimate reasons, such as being illegally parked next to a fire hydrant or in another resident’s designated spot.

Towing companies are not the appropriate enforcers of vehicle registration issues, argued Miller.

“Towing a vehicle is sometimes necessary,” he said, “but it is not necessary if I am at home parking my car in my designated parking spot and my vehicle just happens to not be registered. It’s not a safety issue. It’s not even against the law because I’m not driving the vehicle, so my car doesn’t have to be registered.”

AB 303 also strengthens avenues for consumers who become victims of an illegal tow. They would be allowed to file a claim to try and recoup any costs incurred as a result of having their vehicle illegally towed. For example, lost income from missing work.

“While having a vehicle mistakenly towed for some is just a pesky inconvenience, for others it can result in the loss of a job, a day’s wages, or the decision to get the car out of the tow yard or pay the light bill,” said Miller.

The bill also expands access to the state’s existing hardship tariff program, which provides a 30% discount for qualified low-income people, though they would only be able to apply for the program once per year. That program, overseen by the Nevada Transportation Authority, was created as a part of the 2021 bill.

Opposed to AB 303 are industry groups such as the Nevada State Towing Association and the Nevada State Apartment Association, whose membership includes multiple towing companies. The groups argued it will threaten the financial feasibility of tow companies.

Michael Baumbach, president of the Nevada State Towing Association, called it a “drastic expansion of authority.” He noted the rates charged by towing companies are approved by the Nevada Transportation Authority.

“There’s a very small margin for any kind of profit to be made,” he said. “Any discount given off a price set by the state is going to be a discount on the profit we can make.”

A 30% discount is greater than the profit margin earned on those tows, Baumbach added.

Miller, in his closing comments during the bill’s hearing, stood by the hardship tariff program, saying it is available to people living 200% below the poverty line. He suggested that the opposition against the hardship program only illustrates his point that the financially disadvantaged are being preyed upon.

“We can understand why there’s a concern about the decrease in income,” he said, “because we are towing in places where folks are financially struggling. (This bill) is going to hit your pockets, if that’s where you focus.”

Nevada Current
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