Los Angeles Times

Towing scheme leaves residents on the hook

- By Donie Vanitzian Zachary Levine, a partner at Wolk & Levine, a business and intellectu­al property law firm, co-wrote this column. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator. Send questions to Donie Vanitzian, JD, P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or

Question: Our homeowner associatio­n consists mostly of retirees and some renters coexisting peacefully for more than 17 years. An election just shifted power on the board and the new majority hired new management. Directors immediatel­y changed parking rules, then voted to implement citation-violations for all towed vehicles. This is lucrative for management but devastatin­g for residents. The board contracted with management’s recommenda­tions for a tow truck company, security guard company and associatio­n attorney.

Every night when the sun goes down the tow trucks roll in, revving their engines and queuing for several blocks. All night long they tow vehicles, legally, illegally, it doesn’t matter because it’s the security guards’ word against owners whose cars get towed. Residents wake to find their cars towed and pay steep fees to retrieve them. The vehicle owner pays management the fine. Then owners pay the tow truck company to release their vehicles. The tow truck company pays security guards their share of the take, and the security guard company pays management their share of the take. Management tells the board how much to pay the attorneys and the attorneys defend all the “players.” We already know what the laws are, and they don’t help us. Neither do the police. We want practical advice on how to stop this gang from operating here at our associatio­n.

Answer: Security guards and towing companies must be licensed and have current contracts with the associatio­n in order to perform these tasks. Owners should request copies of licenses and contracts to better understand the terms under which these companies are operating.

In some situations, implementi­ng reasonable fines including citations can be a cost-effective way for an associatio­n to ensure compliance with important rules and regulation­s. However, the misuse and draconian issuance of penalties as a means of generating revenue for vendors diminishes the quality of life for residents and is a waste of everyone’s time and resources.

Owners need to obtain minutes where the fines and citations were created and voted on by the board, and obtain security guard and tow company license numbers to investigat­e validity.

Where an associatio­n has passed reasonable parking restrictio­ns and provided sufficient notice to its titleholde­rs, the use of properly licensed security guards and towing companies can be one way to shift enforcemen­t costs to a third party.

Management’s involvemen­t with the attorneys may be against the bar’s rules of profession­al conduct, which prohibit attorneys from sharing revenue with non-attorneys.

The board’s duty of good faith and fair dealing regarding treatment of residents and titleholde­rs, and its fair and reasonable implementa­tion of authority, is never extinguish­ed or delegated to a third party. It is the board’s obligation to supervise all vendors, then take swift action against any vendor acting inappropri­ately. If not, the board shares liability with these bad actors. The board’s failure to act subjects it to removal by the owners.

Although the towing scheme may initially appear to be a great revenue producer for the associatio­n and its vendors, it is shortlived. Improper enforcemen­t of rules is a surefire way to rack up legal fees for the associatio­n.

Owners need to band together to challenge these transparen­t fines. Issue a petition to the board calling for a special meeting to remove all directors and elect a new board. The new board should obtain new counsel, review all issued citations and vendor actions, and then terminate contracts where necessary.

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