Although the Georgia Department of Law's Consumer Protection Division is not responsible for enforcing towing laws, we hope this information will help guide you to resources that will assist you in resolving your complaint.
If you encounter problems with a towing company, you should always contact the towing company first in an effort to resolve the issue. If the company’s customer service or first-level support people are unable to resolve your complaint, you should put your complaint in writing to the company’s upper management or its owner. After that, if your problem remains unresolved, the recourse available to you depends upon two things:
First, who authorized the towing? Either a non-owner of the vehicle authorized the towing (“non-consensual” towing), or the owner of the vehicle authorized the towing (“consensual” towing).
Second, who owns the property from which the vehicle was towed? Was the vehicle towed from private property or government property?
Note: Towing caused by vehicle repossession is a separate matter. Please see the Federal Trade Commission’s article on Vehicle Repossession.
NON-CONSENSUAL TOWING FROM PRIVATE PROPERTY
The Georgia Department of Public Safety (DPS) enforces O.C.G.A. Section 44-1-13, which regulates non-consensual towing from private property. If the towing company tows from private property, it must have an agreement with the owner of the property as well as filing with the DPS. Please note that this Georgia law does not cover booting, non-consensual immobilization of an automobile, or consensual towing; nor does it cover towing from government property or towing within a municipality.
What does O.C.G.A. Section 44-1-13 provide?
The owner of private property, or his or her authorized agent, has the right to have your motor vehicle removed from that property if you parked there without authorization and a notice was posted informing you that it may be removed at your expense. The conspicuously-posted notice also must tell you:
- where you can recover your vehicle;
- the cost to recover your vehicle (towing fees and storage costs); and
- what types of payment are accepted.
How much can a towing company charge?
State law caps the fees that towing companies can charge you. The DPS sets these rates, but certain cities may set a lower maximum fee than the state standard inside their city limits. If your car was towed, please inquire about the ordinances of the city where this took place.
Are towing companies regulated?
Any company wishing to engage in non-consensual towing from private property must have a permit from the DPS and pay an annual filing fee. Georgia law requires such operators to maintain safety standards, carry a minimum amount of insurance coverage and have insurance information on file with the DPS. A municipality may strengthen existing Georgia laws or apply its own towing regulations within city limits, such as the time of day a vehicle may be towed. A list of permitted towing companies can be found on the DPS web site.
Where do I file a complaint about a non-consensual towing experience?
You should always contact the towing company first in an effort to resolve the issue. Violations of the DPS’ regulations should be reported to the DPS. Violations of a city or county code or ordinance should be reported to local law enforcement. Complaints can also be filed through the Better Business Bureau.
Requirements for obtaining a non-consensual towing permit
Georgia Law mandates that all towing companies and wrecker services engaged in the removal of vehicles from private property without the owner’s or operator's consent hold a state-issued Non-Consensual Towing Permit. Georgia code grants an exception to this permit requirement if the company:
- only performs towing with the vehicle owner’s or operator's consent; or
- is an extension of lawful law enforcement activity and does not otherwise perform non-consensual tows from private property.
For a business to apply for a non-consensual towing permit, the DPS’ web site offers an application form and covers questions frequently asked by towing company owners. In addition, a local permit can be obtained from any city that issues non-consensual towing permits, but it will only be good within those city limits.
NON-CONSENSUAL TOWING FROM GOVERNMENT PROPERTY
If the vehicle was towed from a public right-of-way or from government property (whether city, county, or state government), you must check that city’s/county’s/state’s towing ordinances that provide for the enforcement of parking restrictions and the removal or towing of offending vehicles. In most cases, the owner of the offending vehicle is responsible for all costs associated with its removal or towing and any required storage. Further, a towing company authorized by state law or by local code to enforce towing ordinances can seize an offending vehicle and hold that vehicle until any and all fines imposed upon the owner are paid in full and any costs associated with the removal, towing and storage of the vehicle have been satisfied.
Be aware that many local ordinances limit the liability of the city, county or state for any damage or loss when an offending vehicle (or a vehicle reasonably considered to be offending at the time enforcement action was taken) is removed, towed, seized, held or stored.
Where do I file a complaint about a towing experience?
Check your local city, county or state government for specific regulations and ordinances relating to towing companies. If a towing company violates any local ordinances, you should contact the appropriate local law enforcement entity. Depending on the severity of your complaint and the related costs, damage or loss, you might consider consulting an attorney. Complaints can also be filed through the Better Business Bureau.
If the owner of the vehicle authorized the towing, this is considered “consensual.” You might consent to towing if your car broke down or you were involved in an accident, or if you contacted the towing company yourself.
Where do I file a complaint about a consensual towing experience?
If you encounter any problems with consensual towing, you should:
- Contact the towing company first in an effort to resolve the issue.
- If the company’s customer service department or first-level support people are unable to resolve your complaint, you should put your complaint in writing to the company’s upper management or its owner.
- If the vehicle was towed from property within city limits, check that city’s towing ordinance for any special requirements or regulations that towing companies must comply with. You may be able to file a complaint with local law enforcement.
- If the vehicle was towed from property outside city limits, or if your problem remains unresolved after escalating to company management, your options are:
- Contact an attorney for legal advice; or
- File a claim in magistrate court in the county where the business is located. Magistrate court, also called small claims court, is an informal court and in Georgia it can handle money claims up to $15,000. This court offers a quick and inexpensive process for complaint resolution. Filing fees are relatively small but can vary from county to county.
- Complaints can also be filed through the Better Business Bureau.