On predatory towing: testimony for Portland City Council

November 27, 2013

Testimony for City Council re PPI towing abuses/failure to enforce ORS

Mayor Hales and Members of the City Council:

My name is Sean Aaron Cruz. I served as Senator Avel Gordly’s legislative staff for six years and in that capacity conducted the original research into predatory towing practices taking place in Portland that were targeting low income apartment residents, people of color and communities of immigrants with minimal or no English skills (Exhibit A).

I drafted the legislative concepts enacted in 2007 that were designed to curb these abusive practices in Senate Bill 431 and parts of Senate Bill 116. I led Senator Gordly’s towing workgroup and feel that I can speak with this expertise as to the intent of the legislation and what it means to Portland citizens.

Both of these bills created significant new protections from unscrupulous Private Property Impound (PPI) towers for apartment tenants and their visitors as well as for the general public.

However, I am here to tell you today that none of the citizen protections enacted in 2007 have been enforced in Portland; that there isn’t a single apartment tenant in Portland who is aware of their rights under the new laws; that before recent weeks none of the citizen rights passed in 2007 were ever listed on the City’s posted list of citizen rights; that last December the City also rolled back many of the citizen protections it had in place prior to 2007; and that the towers have even been allowed to create new fees, invent new excuses to tow a tenant’s vehicle unfairly and otherwise circumvent both the spirit and the letter of the law. The PPI system in Portland remains rife with fraud and abuse, probably more so today than it was prior to 2007, with higher costs being forced upon the public.

I am here to ask Council to order an immediate suspension of PPI towing from Portland apartment parking facilities until the property owner or manager can show that they are fully in compliance with state law, and that all of their tenants have received proper notification of towing fees and of their rights in a language that they can understand. Towers have been receiving a holiday from enforcement for six years.

My research showed that Portland’s PPI towing system is built upon these fundamentals: (1) an uninformed public, unaware of their rights under the law; (2) failure to enforce existing state laws and the city’s own ordinances; (3) PPI contracts based upon illegal consideration; that is, apartment owners/managers receiving free towing services in exchange for allowing a tower the privilege of towing vehicles from the property; (4) tow drivers working on commission who make all judgment calls and create the documentation justifying the tow; (5) apartment rental agreements designed to create towing opportunities in violation of state law and where tenants are tricked into signing away their rights without knowing what they are (Exhibit B); and, (6) price fixing, collusion and racketeering.

If your vehicle was towed from an apartment complex since the new laws were enacted in 2007, you are probably due your money back, at minimum. Those vehicles were probably towed under illegal contracts, or under an illegal rule.

Apartment tenants have the right to know the minimum amount of cash they must have in their pockets at all times in order to meet the immediate demands of a tow truck driver arriving without notice. They have a right to know how much more cash they will need in order to redeem the vehicle if it is towed, and they have a right to know these requirements at the onset of their tenancy.

Under SB 116, towers are required to provide a rate sheet in at least 10 point type listing the amounts the tower charges for goods and services prior to towing the vehicle. Failure to provide the printed rate sheet is an Unfair Trade Practice under SB 116, and each violation may be subject to penalties up to $ 25,000.

There isn’t a single tenant in Portland who has seen any of those price sheets or who is aware that he or she has this right.

The 2007 legislation addressed issues related to public health and safety, landlord – tenant relations and fair notice and full financial disclosure to apartment tenants and their visitors, including requiring signage to be posted at all entrances. SB 116 states:

“(2) The Legislative Assembly declares that:

(a) Statutes that assist members of the public in avoiding involuntary loss of use of motor vehicles and in expediting recovery of motor vehicles and the personal property in the motor vehicles promote the safety and welfare of members of the public.”

I would be very happy to brief Council further on the PPI towing legislation as it applies to these additional issues:

[ ] Municipal power to regulate involuntary towing/safety issues

[ ] PPI burden on police/EMT/911 resources, public expense

[ ] Tenant rights pertaining to assigned parking spaces

[ ] Disability fairness issues

[ ] Quiet enjoyment

[ ] Signage/fair notice requirements

[ ] Unfairness caused by time/distance from tow lot

[ ] “Citizen rights” from immigrant perspective

[ ] Barriers to citizen/immigrant redress/justice in the PPI system

Sincerely,

Sean Aaron Cruz

Executive Director

Exhibit A: PPI regulated and non-regulated towing invoices, 2005

Exhibit B: Illegal PPI agreement, 2012

 

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About 1000nations

Sean Aaron Cruz is Executive Director of 1000 Nations and a co-founder of The Friends of Celilo Falls. He is the organizer of the Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival. He is co-author of Winona LaDuke's new book, "The Militarization of Indian Country." He is the father of four children who disappeared into Utah in a Mormon abduction in 1996, and the author of Oregon's landmark anti-kidnapping statute "Aaron's Law" (Senate Bill 1041), named for his late son Aaron Cruz. He writes online as Blogolitical Sean.
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