Regardless of whether your car has been impounded from a publicly owned space (like the street) or from a private lot, you’re guaranteed certain rights according to Charleston Municipal Code.
1) The lot from which you were towed must be clearly marked by a sign, at least six feet square, containing the following information: a clear warning that violators’ vehicles will be towed, at the vehicle owner’s expense; the telephone number to call; and the address where release of the towed vehicle may be obtained.
2) Every tow truck engaged in performing nonconsensual tows must carry an up-to-date towing permit from the Department of Traffic and Transportation. You have the right to see this permit on the truck that towed your vehicle.
3) The towing operator is required by law to have documentation from the owner or agent of the property authorizing them to tow. You have the right to see this documentation.
4) You have the right to receive a tow invoice/receipt that includes all of the following information:
An itemized invoice of all towing charges assessed
The serial number of the tow record/invoice
The name, address, permit number, and telephone number of the towing carrier
The address of the storage facility used by towing carrier, including any different telephone number
The date and time of commencement of towing and of its completion, time of arrival on scene, if different
The make, model, and year of the motor vehicle towed, and license plate number and/or vehicle identification number
The original address of the tow and the destination address
The name, address, and telephone number of the person authorizing the tow, including a signature if it’s a private property tow, unless a written authorization is on file (which you may ask to see)
The unit number or license number of the towing vehicle and signature of towing vehicle operator
5) You have the right to elect to pay for the release of your vehicle with either cash or a major credit card. The towing company cannot charge you additional fees for the use of a credit card.
6) The maximum you can be charged for the tow alone is $97.50.
7) The maximum you can be charged for “storing” your vehicle on a lot for any 24-hour period is $6. (If your tow was authorized by CPD from a public space, this fee is $20/day instead of $6.)
8) The maximum one-time additional fee a towing company can charge you if a dolly was required in towing your vehicle is $10.
9) You have the right to a full explanation of any other costs associated with towing your vehicle.**
If you feel you’re being treated unfairly or illegally by a towing company, get a written receipt for your vehicle and call the City of Charleston Legal Department (724-3730) immediately to file a grievance.
If you wish to see the city ordinances that cover nonconsensual towing, read them online at www.municode.com or you can visit the Clerk of Council’s office at 80 Broad Street to view a physical copy of the Municipal Code, Article XIII.
(** We have yet to find a single public official who can give us a thorough, authoritative explanation of the additional “holding charge” that towing companies often add to their fees above and beyond the charges detailed in Municipal Code Article XIII. We’ve spoken to officials at the Department of Traffic and Transportation, the Charleston Police Department, and the City’s legal department, and no one has yet managed more than a guess at the provenance of this mystifying fee, which sometimes runs as high as $175 by itself. If you can authoritatively describe to us the circumstances under which a “holding charge” can be levied, how the fee is determined, and which specific municipal regulations govern its fair application, we’ll buy you a steak dinner.)