In a lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court, the Towing and Recovery Association of Washington argues the city cannot adopt regulations that are inconsistent with state law regulating towing and impound fees.
The City Council in September unanimously approved an ordinance to cap towing and impound fees. Mayor Mike McGinn and Councilman Nick Licata introduced the legislation in response to reports about tows that exceeded $800.
The law set a limit of $183 per hour for the first hour of an impound tow off private property and $130 per hour for any additional time.
The lawsuit asks the court to stop the city from enforcing the cap on towing fees, which went into effect Nov. 1.
"The big problem with what the City Council did is that it's pre-empted by state law. What the city should have done is go to the state and change the law," said Phil Talmadge, the lawyer representing the towing association.
The Seattle Times reported that the city did try to lobby the state Legislature in the 2012 session to cap towing rates at a flat $250, but the towing industry succeeded in killing the bill.
State law requires tow companies to post their rates with the Department of Licensing, but the state has no power to disapprove them. The highest rate posted is $650 an hour.
"We worked with the City Attorney's Office to craft legislation that would stand up in court," Licata said. "I'm not surprised by the lawsuit, since representatives from the towing industry had expressed this belief (that the Seattle ordinance is contrary to state law) while we lobbied the state Legislature. It's unfortunate that some in the towing industry will oppose this reasonable and fair approach to regulating their industry."
The city Department of Finance and Administrative Services, which administers towing regulations, said similar legal arguments were made unsuccessfully after Portland in 2003 restricted towing charges.
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