Towing of Illegally Parked Vehicles
The towing of illegally parked vehicles is a topic that is regularly brought to our attention. In most instances, the problem involves a commercial vehicle, motor home, trailer or truck that that is parked in violation of the Association’s covenants or rules. It may also involve a vehicle that appears to have been abandoned or is not properly registered with the State of Colorado. In more egregious instances, the vehicle is parked illegally in a designated handicap parking space or fire lane. In any instance, the question is: “Can we tow the illegally parked vehicle?
The answer to this question initially depends on whether or not the Association owns the property on which the vehicle is illegally parked. Colorado law only allows for the towing of a vehicle under the following conditions:
- When the towing is directed by a law enforcement officer;
- When the towing is requested by the owner, authorized operator, or authorized agent of the owner of the motor vehicle; or
- When the towing is requested by the property owner.
Thus, an Association may tow an illegally parked vehicle from a private street or common area that it owns (since it is the property owner). However, if the vehicle is parked on a public street, it may not tow the vehicle on its own. This is true even if the vehicle is parked in violation of the Association’s covenants or rules. In this situation, the Association could seek to have the vehicle towed by a local law enforcement officer. However, law enforcement is likely only to direct a tow if the vehicle is in violation of city or county ordinances. If the vehicle is simply in violation of the Association’s covenants or rules, the Association’s recourse is likely through fines (pursuant to its enforcement policy) or a lawsuit seeking injunctive relief (a court order prohibiting the vehicle from being parked in violation of the covenants or rules).
For Associations with private streets or other private parking areas, there are a few additional issues to consider before it begins towing vehicles. First, the Association should review its covenants and rules to make sure that they specifically allow for towing. If not, the Association’s remedy is probably still limited to either fines or litigation (or other remedies provided for in the covenants or rules). If the Association’s rules do allow for towing, it should be sure to follow any notice requirements imposed by State statute, municipal ordinances, or the Association’s covenants or rules. Typically, the Association needs to post some type of warning on the offending vehicle before towing the vehicle. However, there may be exceptions where immediate towing is authorized in cases of emergencies or where vehicles are illegally parked in fire lanes.
One final point to consider is that towing is an extreme remedy that should be undertaken with caution. In most cases the Association will be asserting control over a piece of property worth thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars. If the Association is mistaken about either (1) its authority to tow, (2) that a covenant or rule has been violated, or (3) that proper notice was given before the tow, it could become liable for any damages incurred by the vehicles owner.
In sum, how to treat illegally parked vehicles in your community is an important decision. Feel free to contact our office if you have any questions regarding the towing of vehicles or whether your Association has this authority.