Are Birmingham towing companies ripping you off?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – The weekends are the busiest part of the week for most Birmingham bars and clubs.

“I leave at about midnight and I come out and they are towing my car,” Patrick Burk said.

Burk says he originally didn’t notice the ‘No Parking’ signs in the lot across from a busy bar in Birmingham’s Lakeview District. His issue isn’t so much with the fact he was towed, it’s with the $310 he had to pay a towing company to retrieve his car. In Birmingham there is not a limit on the amount a towing company can charge.

“Way out of hand. It’s highway robbery,” Burk continued.

Birmingham City Councilor Johnathan Austin calls the fee ridiculous. He’s the driving force behind a proposed ordinance that would put a $160 cap on the amount that can be charged for non-consensual towing.

“I understand them wanting to protect their property but they should not allow an individual to come onto their property and treat people like this,” Austin said.

The City of Atlanta has a similar ordinance, capping the price at $125 dollars. In Nashville, the cap is $85.

Barber Companies owns several area parking lots. They’ve hired Parking Enforcement Systems to tow away vehicles that shouldn’t be on their property. A Barber spokesperson says they do not set the towing rates but do say a $160 cap would make it difficult for towing companies to make a profit.

“We’re trying our best to keep a company, a large company, in the City of Birmingham,” Barber Companies’ Don Erwin said.

To do that Erwin says employees at the buildings they own, particularly a 24-hour medical testing center near the Lakeview District, need places to park.

Austin’s current proposal is roughly 40 pages long. Barber Companies calls it oppressive and burdensome. They point out a portion that would disallow towing within the first 15 minutes after a vehicle is parked. Properly documenting that would be nearly impossible, they claim.

“We see both sides of the picture but you have to start out with a basic respect for the laws and for property rights,” Erwin continued.

The Birmingham City Council did not take action on the proposed ordinance when it was discussed in early October. The matter is expected to come back up.

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