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Commercial Property Owners: To Tow or Not to Tow, According to Florida Law

Are you a business owner experiencing parking issues on your commercial property? How about a condominium association with parking issues on residential property? In Florida, private property owners, along with their agents, have authority under the Florida Statutes to tow unauthorized vehicles off their property. Fla. Stat. § 715.07 (2012). (http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0700-0799/0715/Sections/0715.07.html) In doing so, you want to make sure you follow Florida law or else you may be liable for certain expenses and damages.

Section 715.07, Florida Statutes, provides many requirements that a private property owner must follow when towing a vehicle off its premises. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

· The vehicle must be towed by a person who is regularly engaged in the business of towing vehicles. Fla. Stat. § 715.07(2). (This means you cannot have your best friend who owns a F350 remove the vehicle.)

· Once towed, the vehicle “must be stored at a site within a 10-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of 500,000 population or more, and within a 15-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of less than 500,000 population." Fla. Stat. § 715.07(2)(a)(1.a). However, if no towing business is located within the area set forth above, the towed vehicle “must be stored at a site within a 20-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of 500,000 population or more, and within a 30-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of less than 500,000 population." Fla. Stat. § 715.07(2)(a)(1.b). (In other words, you can’t have it towed 50 miles into the next county to teach the person a lesson.)

· The site where the vehicle is towed must be available for retrieving the vehicle from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on “any day that the [site] . . . is open for towing purposes." Id.

· The entity authorizing the towing must notify the municipal police department or the sheriff within 30 minutes after completion of the towing. This notification must include the “storage site, the time [of towing], and the make, model, color, and license plate number of the vehicle or description and registration number of the [vehicle]" and the entity authorizing the towing “shall obtain the name of the person at that department to whom such information was reported and note that name on the trip record." Fla. Stat. § 715.07(2)(a)(2).

· In nearly all circumstances, there must be a posted notice that warns of towing on the premises. The notice must meet the requirements listed in Section 715.07(2)(a)(5)(a)-(g), Florida Statutes.

Florida’s condominium associations must be especially careful when towing vehicles off residential property. This is because associations must not only abide by the Florida Statutes, but also follow its condominium declarations, articles of incorporation and bylaws. If the condominium association’s governing documents require residents to have parking passes, stickers or some other form of identification to park in assigned spots on the property, then the association can tow vehicles parked in those assigned spots that do not have proper passes, stickers, or other identification. If the condominium association’s governing documents are silent on such matters, then it may not have authority to tow.

Most condominium associations have designated visitor parking areas. If the condominium association’s documents are silent on visitor parking requirements, then it may not have authority to tow from that assigned visitor parking area. When a condominium association tows without proper authority, it may be subject to liability for expenses and damages just as owners of commercial properties are.

The penalties for unauthorized towing are severe: “When a person improperly causes a vehicle . . . to be removed, such person shall be liable to the owner . . . of the vehicle . . . for the cost of removal, transportation, and storage; any damages resulting from the removal, transportation, or storage of the vehicle; attorneys’ fees; and court costs." Fla. Stat. § 715.07(4). Additionally, in certain circumstances, a person can be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree and/or a felony of the third degree for improper towing. See Fla. Stat. § 715.07(5)(a)-(b).

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