Jul 20, 2021 - News

Des Moines explores new towing rules to protect drivers

A photo of a towing warning sign outside of a Des Moines business.

A tow warning sign outside a business off Ingersoll Ave. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

The Des Moines City Council is considering new rules that benefit drivers who are towed, but some are concerned they may burden businesses.

Driving the news: Council member Josh Mandelbaum last week suggested two new ordinances that he said offer protections for drivers who are privately towed.

  • One requires clear no parking signage by businesses where someone could possibly be towed.
  • The other allows a driver to get their car back if they see their vehicle getting towed before it's brought to the lot. They'll likely have to pay a smaller fee, but the details haven't been determined yet.

What he's saying: Some visitors and even locals may accidentally park illegally, especially downtown. Establishing no parking signs — which aren't required for private parking lots — could create more transparency, Mandelbaum said.

  • And it would be less burdensome on drivers who spot their vehicle getting towed and could pay a reduced fee to retrieve it, he said.

The other side: Council members Joe Gatto and Linda Westergaard opposed the proposals, saying drivers are responsible for parking legally and the ordinances burden business owners.

  • "There's consequences for not following the rules," Gatto said.

Of note: Mayor Frank Cownie and Gatto have each received $1K in campaign donations from the Crow family — who owns towing provider Crow Tow — within the last three years.

  • Cownie said he supports exploring Mandelbaum's suggestions. He said Crow's donations haven't influenced his stance on the city's towing policies.
  • Gatto said he doesn't solicit donations from contractors and is also not influenced by the money.

The big picture: Mandelbaum's proposals aren't out of the ordinary. Thirty states have laws requiring clear "tow-away" signs at private lots, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

  • Eighteen states require tow companies to release your car for at least a smaller fee if you return before it's removed from a property.
  • But Iowa is considered one of the worst states when it comes to consumer protections against predatory towing, Teresa Murray of U.S. PIRG previously told Axios.

What's next: City Council members said they plan on having private conversations with local tow groups about the measures before making any decisions.


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