When and How Can Community Associations Tow Vehicles?

February 22nd, 2019

Posted in Business & Corporate Law,Real Estate Law

One of the most effective self-help enforcement measures that exists for both Condominium and Homeowner Associations is the power to tow improperly parked vehicles from association-owned or common element property.

However, like other enforcement tools, the towing process must be properly performed or the Association could face potential liability. Below is a breakdown of the basics for when and how an Association can legally tow vehicles:

1.         Authority to Tow:

The power to tow vehicles under certain circumstances is granted by Section 715.07, Florida Statutes (sometimes referred to as the “Towing Statute”), which provides in part as follows:

The owner or lessee of real property, or any person authorized by the owner or lessee, which person may be the designated representative of the condominium association if the real property is a condominium, may cause any vehicle or vessel parked on such property without her or his permission to be removed by a person regularly engaged in the business of towing vehicles or vessels, without liability for the costs of removal, transportation, or storage or damages caused by such removal, transportation, or storage.

2.         What Is a Vehicle Under the Towing Statute?:

As used in the Towing Statute, “the term ‘vehicle’ means any mobile item which normally uses wheels, whether motorized or not.”  Accordingly, this law is not just limited to standard automobiles.

3.         The Association May Only Tow from Property the Association Owns and/or Controls:

It is vitally important to remember that the Towing Statute only permits the owner or lessee of real property (or a person authorized by the owner or lessee) to cause a vehicle parked without permission to be towed from the property that they own or lease. This generally means that HOAs and Condominium Associations generally may not tow vehicles from driveways, public streets, or private lots that are not owned or controlled by the Association.  Condominium associations may only tow vehicles from common element property or property that the Condominium Association owns in its corporate capacity. HOAs may only tow vehicles from property that the HOA owns (including private streets). 

4.         Vehicles Can Only Be Towed When a Violation Actually Exists:

Although “parked without permission” is not clearly defined, Section 715.07 clearly intends that the vehicle must be violating a valid, reasonable and identifiable restriction, such as a location or time that parking may be allowed. 

5.         The Association Must Strictly Follow the Law to Be Protected from Liability for Towing:

In order to avail itself of the liability protections afforded by the Towing Statute, a community association must strictly comply with the technical requirements found in that law, which are broken down into the following two categories:

            a.         Required Notice to the Owner of the Vehicle:

Prior to any towing, the Community Association must ensure that the owner of the vehicle is aware of the possibility that his or her vehicle will be towed, in a manner provided for under the Towing Statute. This would generally include obtaining the permission of the owner to tow their vehicle, providing personal notice to the owner of the vehicle, or posting signs in the specific manner required by the Towing Statute.

            b.         Requirements Relating to the Actual Towing:

Assuming that the Community Association has met the notice requirements, the Association must also ensure that numerous specific requirements contained in the Towing Statute are followed by the towing company. These requirements are too numerous to list in detail here, but they include items such as the location of the site where the vehicle may be stored, notifying the appropriate law enforcement agency of a towing within 30 minutes after the towing occurs, prohibitions on rebates or kickbacks from the towing company, among other requirements.

6.         Local Governmental Restrictions:

Section 715.07 also permits local governments to enact additional regulations relating to towing inside their jurisdiction, including the regulation of rates. Accordingly, it is important that a Community Association also check with the local government to insure that it has also complied with any additional requirements.

7.         Civil Penalties for Failing to Follow the Laws:

If a Community Association improperly causes a vehicle to be towed, the Association can be held liable to the owner of the vehicle for damage caused to the vehicle; the costs to remove, transport, and store the vehicle; and attorney’s fees and court costs incurred by the vehicle’s owner.

Condominium and Homeowners Associations are generally authorized to tow vehicles from the Association’s Property or the Common Elements, but the Association should take care to strictly follow the requirements of the Towing Statute in order to avoid any potential liability to the Association.

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