The procedure through which an association may remove (tow) vehicles from its common area and/or exclusive use common area parking spaces is governed by the requirements set forth in California Vehicle Code (CVC) § 22658. Those requirements involve (1) the prior notice given to vehicle owners, (2) the written authorization required for tows, and (3) the mandatory reporting requirements to local traffic law enforcement and to the vehicle owner in certain circumstances. These requirements are discussed further below.
Circumstances for Towing of Vehicles
When a vehicle is improperly parked upon an association’s common areas, the association may have the vehicle towed under any of the following circumstances:
- Where “there is displayed, in plain view at all entrances to the property, a sign not less than 17 inches by 22 inches in size, with lettering not less than one inch in height, prohibiting public parking and indicating that vehicles will be removed at the owner’s expense, and containing the telephone number of the local traffic law enforcement agency and the name and telephone number of each towing company that is a party to a written general towing authorization agreement with the owner or person in lawful possession of the property” (CVC § 22658(a)(1)); or
- Where “the vehicle has been issued a notice of parking violation, and 96 hours have elapsed since the issuance of the notice” (CVC § 22658(a)(2)); or
- Where “the vehicle is on private property and lacks an engine, transmission, wheels, tires, or other equipment necessary to operate safely on the highways, the owner or person in lawful possession of the private property has notified the local traffic law enforcement agency, and 24 hours have elapsed sicne that notification” (CVC § 22658(a)(3)); or
- Where “the lot upon which the vehicle is parked is improved with a single family dwelling.” (CVC § 22658(a)(4)).
Authorization Given to Towing Vendor
An association’s towing vendor may not tow a vehicle without first having written authorization from the association. That authorization may be in the form of a general authorization or a specific authorization depending upon the circumstances giving rise to the tow:
General Towing Authorization
A general authorization may be given for the towing of vehicles in any of the following three (3) circumstances: (CVC § 22658(l)(1)(E).)
- Vehicles parked in fire lanes; or
- Vehicles unlawfully parked within fifteen feet (15’) of fire hydrants; or
- Vehicles parked in a manner that interferes with ingress or egress to, from or within the community.
In any of these three (3) circumstances, the general authorization would authorize the towing vendor to patrol the parking areas within the community and, in the towing company’s discretion and without additional authorization from the association, tow the offending vehicle. Upon claiming his/her vehicle towed under any of the above three (3) circumstances, the vehicle owner must be provided without charge: (a) a copy of the association’s general authorization with the towing vendor, and (b) a photograph taken by the towing vendor at the time of the tow that clearly depicts the parking violation for which the vehicle was towed. (CVC § 22658(l)(2).)
Specific Towing Authorization
In situations where an association seeks to have a vehicle towed in circumstances that do not fall within a general authorization, a representative of the association (i.e., its managing agent) must provide specific authorization to the towing vendor for that particular tow. Additionally, at the time of the tow, the association’s representative must be present somewhere within the community, though he/she is not required to be physically present at the location of the tow. (CVC § 22658(l)(1)(A).)
That specific authorization given by the association’s representative to the towing vendor must include all of the following: (CVC § 22658(l)(1)(B).)
- The make, model, VIN#, and license plate # of the vehicle to be towed; and
- The name, signature, job title, residential or business address and working telephone number of the association’s representative who authorized the tow; and the grounds for towing the vehicle; and the time when the vehicle was first observed parked in the community; and the time that the authorization to tow the vehicle was given.
When the vehicle owner claims his/her vehicle, the owner must be provided without charge a copy of the specific authorization. In providing this information, the towing vendor is required to redact the information pertaining to the association’s representative who authorized the tow. (CVC § 22658(l)(1)(C).)
California Vehicle Code Section 22658 also imposes certain reporting requirements on both the Association and its towing vendor in connection with the towing of a vehicle:
Towing Vendor Reporting Requirements
If the towing vendor knows or is able to obtain from the association “the name and address of the registered and legal owner of the vehicle,” the towing vendor is required to immediately provide the vehicle owner with written notice of the tow, the grounds for removal, and also indicate the place to which the vehicle has been towed. (CVC § 22658(b).) If the towing vendor is unable to give such notice (i.e., if the towing vendor “does not know and is not able to ascertain” the information regarding the vehicle owner), and the vehicle is not returned to the owner within one hundred and twenty (120) hours, the towing vendor must send a written report of the removal to the Department of Justice and also file a copy of the notice with the facility where the vehicle is being stored. (CVC § 226583(c).)
Association Reporting Requirements
When authorizing a specific tow, the association’s representative must telephone the local traffic law enforcement within one (1) hour after authorizing the tow. If doing so is “impractical” for any reason, then local traffic law enforcement must be notified by the “most expeditious means available.” (CVC § 22658(f).) If the vehicle owner asks the association to tell him/her the basis for the tow, the association must state the grounds for the tow. (CVC § 22658(f).)
Liability for Invalid Tows & Damaged Vehicles
California Vehicle Code Section 22658 provides that towing vendors are generally not responsible in any situation for determining whether a tow authorized by the association is valid. (CVC § 22658(f).)
The towing vendor, not the association, is liable for any damage caused to towed vehicles. However, if it can be shown that the damage was attributable to an “intentional or negligent act” of the association, the association can be made liable. (CVC § 22658(l)(1)(D).)
The towing vendor is required, at the vehicle owner’s request, to immediately and unconditionally set down the vehicle that is hitched and/or ready for tow but that is not yet in transit (i.e., the vehicle is still within the boundaries of the association’s development). (CVC § 22658(g)(1)(B).) In such a case, the towing vendor is entitled to payment from the vehicle owner of up to fifty percent (50%) of the towing charge if the association’s representative requests such payment on the towing vendor’s behalf. (CVC § 22658(h).)