Boston City Council Looks to Address Predatory Towing Practices

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City Councilors Lydia Edwards and Elizabeth Breadon are targeting what some call predatory towing practices in Boston by seeking to establish a towing bill of rights, and other towing related regulations.

District 1 City Councilor Edwards and District 9 City Councilor Breadon introduced an ordinance at Boston City Council meeting in August that would “modernize and reform involuntary private vehicle towing and relocation practices in Boston.”

Former Mayor Martin Walsh took steps to protect people from predatory towing practices in 2015. However, the pandemic has made predatory towing an even more pressing issue in 2021.

The regulations come at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the ability of residents to cover essential everyday costs such as food, rent, and car payments, and recent studies have shown just 39% of U.S. adults could afford a $1,000 unexpected expense,” said a press release from Edwards and Breadon.

Breadon explained the importance of protecting citizens of Boston from these towing practices, and the drastic impacts they can have.

“People who rely on their cars may lose access to work, education, healthcare, and social services due to an unexpected tow,” said Breadon. “We absolutely must strengthen our regulations to reign in predatory practices of bad actors in the towing industry.”

Councilor Edwards described the towing practices as “wrong and unethical.” The councilors did acknowledge that "the majority of tow truck operators are reputable service providers.”

The ordinance, which references a May 2021 report from the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), illustrates specific policies that towing companies would have to follow if the measure is passed including requiring towing companies to publish and display their rates; accepting credit card payments as opposed to solely cash; and reimbursements for damages caused during towing and storage.

Towing companies would also be prohibited from surveilling private property without a given cause. The ordinance also states that, “reports have shown that towing and related policies disproportionately affect low-income people, especially people of color and immigrants.”

Council President Pro Tempore and District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley described the towing as, “a quality of life issue,” and explained that predatory towing practices should be taken seriously.

“I support this ordinance because it allows bigger flexibility,” O’Malley said. “It's an important issue, probably on the smaller side, and every issue we take seriously and we’re going to delve into.”

These practices are more common in areas of the city that are more congested and have less available parking and fewer homes with driveways, such as the North End, and Charlestown, O’Malley noted.

The ordinance was assigned to the Council’s Government Operations Committee which is chaired by Edwards. A public hearing has yet to be scheduled.