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Originally published September 24, 2012 at 9:41 PM | Page modified September 24, 2012 at 10:52 PM

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Seattle City Council caps towing fees for vehicles on private property

The Seattle City Council approved a cap on towing rates and impound fees Monday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Saying they wanted to end predatory towing fees, the Seattle City Council Monday unanimously approved caps on towing rates and impound fees from private property.

The legislation sets a limit of $183 per hour for the first hour of an impound tow off private property and $130 for any additional time. It also limits storage rates to $15.50 for up to 12 hours.

The caps take effect in January.

"This legislation is a real game-changer for the towing industry," said Councilmember Nick Licata, who worked with Mayor Mike McGinn to introduce and pass the bill. "People will no longer have to ransom back their personal auto because they parked too long."

But towing operators questioned whether the measure is legal because the city didn't study the actual costs to tow and impound vehicles, and because the city's rates will be different from those around the state.

"This was foisted on the industry devoid of facts," said Al Runte, a member of the state legislative committee for the Towing and Recovery Association of Washington.

Dan Johnson, president of the state association, said the bill to the car owner will include an additional $15 fee that will go to the city to monitor compliance by tow-truck operators.

"Government was made bigger today. Regulation was added to our industry," Johnson said. He said the board will meet later this week and consider legal action.

He said the State Patrol sets towing rates indexed to transportation costs and inflation for tows from highways. He questioned why Seattle didn't adopt those rates, $177 for the first hour of an impound tow and $22.50 for up to 12 hours of storage.

Impounds off city streets are set by the Seattle Police Department and vary by neighborhood, with the highest $104. The city calculated 175 percent of that rate to reach the cap on tow fees, according to city staff.

The issue of high towing fees erupted last year when Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote about a man charged almost $800 for a single tow from his apartment on Capitol Hill, where he was illegally parked.

Readers subsequently sent in their own towing bills documenting charges of $1,400 and more.

Tow companies are required to post rates with the Department of Licensing, but the state has no power to approve or disapprove them. One Seattle firm was charging $650 an hour.

The Legislature considered a statewide cap on towing rates during the past session. A bill passed the House of Representatives but not the Senate.

The towing industry opposed the legislation, saying it would hurt business at a time the economy is still struggling. It also accused Seattle officials of blocking the bill because the city wanted to set its own rates.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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