Q&A - Towed From Business Parking Lot

Q&A ImageI was recently towed from a business lot in Kelowna and my car was impounded. The lot is quite large and services multiple businesses. There are no signs when you enter the lot to indicate that it is a private lot. The parking spots have small signs on the curb of the sidewalk that say "[Insert business name here] parking only." There is one sign on the opposite wall of a separate building that has a tow company name and number.

I was at another business in the same building. I parked at 10:25 and my car arrived at the tow lot (4 km away) at 11:00. I did not see the "customer parking only sign" and was towed immediately. The owner of the store refused to tell me where my car was, and the tow truck operator hung up on me when I called to ask where my car was located. Once I figured out where it was, the tow truck owner/operator refused to give me my car after I confronted him about his lack of signage. I finally received my car back after a 187.00 fee, which I believe to be inconsistent with the fees set out in the Warehouse Lien Act.

I have read through the motor vehicle act, but it only specifies that owners of rural land have to wait 72 hours to tow. The motor vehicle act has numerous regulations for tow truck operators when the police are involved, but nothing for private companies. I have also read through the Warehouse Lien Act and have not been able to identify the standards.

I have called the city of Kelowna and they do not have by-laws that govern private towing companies. I have called ICBC and they do not handle towing companies.

I am hoping that you can provide some advice on the rules and regulations for tow truck operators and for private property within city limits.

Parking areas like this are an odd thing. When the public is invited to use them, the laws consider them to be a highway and apply as if you were still driving on the city street. What many seem to forget is that this property belongs to someone and they have every right to use it, within reason and law, as they see fit. In this case, the parking is provided for use of the tenants to conduct their business. As I am sure that you can guess, if their parking spaces are not available, their customers go elsewhere. Ultimately, no customers, no business. There is a very strong incentive to see that the allotted parking spaces are in fact available only for the use of their customers.

As you have seen in your examination of the Motor Vehicle Act, that when you park on private property in a municipality, you give the property owner permission to deal with your vehicle.

Parking on private property

192  (1) If a motor vehicle or trailer is left without the occupier's consent on private property in a municipality ... the owner of the motor vehicle or trailer is deemed to have authorized and empowered the occupier to be the owner's agent for the purpose of towing it to a place of storage and of storing it.

By parking in the space designated for business customers and then going elsewhere, you have chosen to park without the owner's consent. In the photo that you provided me that I have decided not to make available here, it appears that the space is marked to that effect. The painted notice on the curb is not large, but it is visible.

Forgive me if I am wrong, but in reading between the lines in your story, it appears that there may have been some heated words exchanged between yourself, the business and the towing company. The store owner should have told you who they had called to tow your vehicle and the towing company should have immediately told you how to recover your vehicle. They are perfectly within their right to hold your vehicle until you pay the towing fee.

I had a look at the City of Kelowna's bylaws. I was able to find a zoning bylaw that regulated parking, but it does not appear to have anything to control this situation. It is possible that there is something elsewhere, but if so, I don't know where to find it. As you found out, ICBC does not control towing either, save for the towing of vehicles related to their business, and then only by choosing certain companies and imposing rates. Towing companies are free to set their own rates, although some choose to follow rates suggested by the Automotive Retailers Association of BC.

The Warehouse Lien Act is a tool for towing companies to recover what is owed if they choose to release the vehicle without payment up front. Most do not as it is much simpler just to insist on payment before release. Enforcement of a lien is difficult and time consuming. This Act does not set towing rates.

Ultimately, I don't think that you can argue the cause for towing your vehicle. You may be able to argue part of the towing fee as the price you named seems to be a bit high for the situation. I'm inquiring about that and hoping to learn a bit more. I will revisit the topic when I hear.

Finally, I am not well versed in civil law, which is a large component of the situation here. You may wish to consult with someone who is for a more comprehensive answer. Lawyer referral is your best place to start with that.

I've heard from my friend who is a tow truck operator in the lower mainland. His company's fee for this would have been just over $100. He also explained that these calls are treated as a priority and some other work will be pushed off until later in order to deal with this. That priority means a slightly higher fee.

The company deals with this situation carefully. Before it will remove improperly parked vehicles it requires information on company letterhead signed by the property owner or strata manager detailing who is authorized to have vehicles removed. They provide warning signs for a small fee that the company can post at their parking spaces. If the authorized person is not present when the tow truck arrives and does not remain until the tow truck leaves, they will not remove the vehicle.

The only bylaw that applies in his municipality is that improperly parked impounded vehicles must be towed to storage within the municipality.

In reply to by DriveSmartBC

It's considered a "priority" because they want to get there quick and nab the vehicle before the driver comes back for it.

Towing from private lots is really the wild wild west.

Municipalities can and do, in some cases, regulate towing from private property under their bylaws.  The City of Vancouver, for example, regulates private towing under their Vehicles For Hire bylaw.

In the case of Vancouver it dictates the amount and number of signs, their size.  The amount that can be charged for an impound, the amount a tow company can charge for a "drop" (that's when you run out and the tow truck hasn't left with your vehicle yet).

Contrary to info that a property manager must sign off on each and every tow, in many cases in many towns the property owner can authorize the tow company to authorize their own tow.

I've known of cases where tow companies have utilized spotters who sit in popular parking lots, ie, near a busy popular restaurant area with limited parking and call in tow trucks waiting nearby.

Whenever I park in a private lot, I am over-cautious.

In my opinion any town that does not have a tow bylaw, is hanging their citizens and visitors out to dry, leaving them at the mercy of a tow company.  The vast majority of tow companies have very few fans.

Unless regulated, the charges can be "up there".... "towing fee" "any extra fee for dollies etc", as soon as it hits the impound lot "one day storage"