Colorado lawmakers grill agency’s proposed rules governing the state’s towing companies

Matt Bloom/CPR News
A sign threatens towing in an apartment complex parking lot in Denver.

Authors of a comprehensive law overhauling the state’s towing industry asked a judge on Thursday to delay adoption of new rules that would govern how companies can take residents’ vehicles from private properties. 

The blowback came during a hearing Thursday at the state’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates tow companies in Colorado. The agency has spent the past several months working to incorporate the state’s new Towing Bill of Rights into the way it issues fines and citations against operators. 

Democratic lawmakers said several proposed amendments went against their bill’s original intent and – if passed – would harm consumers. 

“The commission’s attempt to create flexibility undermines our law,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales, who spoke during the hearing. 

One proposed rule requires tow companies to release an impounded vehicle for $60 or 15 percent of the total tow bill, and collect the remaining balance in “no less than 30 days, but no more than 90 days, after the vehicle has been released.” 

But the new law intentionally left out a specific due date for paying the remainder of a bill, Gonzales said. 

“We wanted to make sure there was flexibility, so that a towing operator and an individual could figure out what the best payment plan for themselves would be,” Gonzales said. “Not establishing a strict process.”

Towing companies pushed for the specific time frame amendment to help provide clarity, said John Connolly, a tow company owner. 

“If you don’t put some kind of guidelines in place, bad towers will find loopholes in that,” he said. “They could try to make people pay in a week or two.” 

The pushback from lawmakers comes at a time of heightened scrutiny for tow companies in the state. Lawmakers passed new protections for consumers last year amid a spike in complaints of predatory towing near residents’ homes.

Many complaints stem from tows carried out by Wyatt’s Towing, a Denver metro company. The PUC has logged more than 1,000 complaints from consumers about the company over the past 3 years. 

Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser announced earlier this week he was investigating Wyatt’s for potential fraud and violations of the state’s consumer protection laws. The announcement came after Sen. Gonzales, one of the towing bill’s main sponsors, tweeted about an alleged illegal tow of her car last week. 

During Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers also scrutinized ambiguity in PUC rules around tow warnings on private properties. The state’s new laws require tow companies to label parking spots as “Authorized Parking Only” in order to tow someone from a particular spot. 

The proposed amendments allowed flexibility to use that or “similar” language, which isn’t what the law intended, said Rep. Naquetta Ricks. 

“This is not the spirit or intent of our legislation,” she said. 

Lawmakers also noted that the PUC included a provision that bans tow companies from issuing loans to vehicle owners, mirroring a similar statement in July from the Attorney General’s office. They said that issue was settled in the original legislation. 

“There’s no questioning that our law does not allow tow companies to issue loans,” Gonzales said. “If we have to spell that out in future legislation, so be it.” 

A PUC judge will make a final determination on the state’s new towing rules in late September.