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Home | Newsroom | Financial Security | PRESS RELEASE: New Report Shows How Towing Practices in California Punish People in Poverty

PRESS RELEASE: New Report Shows How Towing Practices in California Punish People in Poverty


AB 516, authored by Assembly Member David Chiu, seeks to end harmful towing practices

San Francisco, Calif., (March 18, 2019) – A new report released today reveals how local governments in California use car towing and the associated fees in ways that disproportionately harm Californians living in poverty. The report, Towed into Debt, is authored by Western Center on Law & Poverty, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Legal Services of Northern California, ACLU of California, Bay Area Legal Aid, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Public Law Center, Public Counsel, and the East Bay Community Law Clinic.

The report states that hundreds of thousands of California drivers have their cars towed every year for non-emergency, non-safety related reasons. Unpaid tickets, expired registration, and parking for more than 72 hours make up the majority of tows in California. People who can’t afford to pay parking tickets and registration fees often can’t afford to retrieve their vehicles once administrative fees, storage fees, and unpaid tickets are added together — fee totals often reach $1500 or more.

If a person is unable to pay all fees within 30 days of a tow, their car is sold for a fraction of its value. In San Francisco, half of all vehicles towed for debt collection are sold at lien sale. In 2017, Los Angeles tow yards sold over 26,000 vehicles that were towed by local agencies. It’s estimated that California sells at least 200,000 government-towed vehicles every year.

“Half of Americans can’t afford an emergency $500 expense, but cities across California regularly saddle low-income people with thousands of dollars in unconstitutional towing fees,” says Elisa Della-Piana, LCCR legal director. “These tows violate the Fourth Amendment by robbing people of their ability to get to work – and often their only financial asset – solely on the basis of economic status.”

California’s towing laws are a lose-lose-lose. People lose their cars, tow yards lose the opportunity to have paying customers on their lot, and local governments lose the opportunity to collect unpaid revenue. “California’s existing towing practices push people deeper into poverty, while doing nothing to benefit local governments. It’s time California put an end to this cruel and devastating practice,” says Maya Ingram, Legislative Attorney with the ACLU of California.

Losing a vehicle can have devastating effects on a person’s ability to get to work, get children to school, and execute essential tasks like getting to medical appointments. “We often hear from community members who are homeless that they wound up in a tent on the sidewalk because of the ripple effects of a single unexpected financial catastrophe. For many, it was getting their vehicle towed and not being able to afford to get it back,” says Shayla Myers, Attorney with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

Towing is an unnecessarily harmful way for local governments to enforce non-safety related laws. Western Center’s Director of Policy Advocacy, Mike Herald, describes the practice as “the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack an egg.”

Assembly Member David Chiu has introduced AB 516 to curb the practice of harmful and unnecessary towing. The bill seeks to eliminate three types of poverty related tows:

  • Tows where a person has five or more unpaid parking tickets
  • Tows where the car registration is more than six months out of date
  • Tows where a car has been parked for 72 hours on a public street without being moved

By alleviating non-safety related towing practices, local governments in California will no longer be able to punish people living in poverty by taking away one of their most valuable assets.

To read the full report, click here.

For more information, contact:

Michael Herald, Western Center on Law and Poverty [email protected]

Maya Ingram, ACLU California [email protected]

Elisa Della Piana, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights [email protected]