Roger L. Stancil, Town Manager


Brian Curran, Chief of Police

Lt. Kevin Gunter, Public Information Officer

Terrie Gale, Police Attorney


Towing from Private Lots


February 11, 2008




On January 14, 2008, the Town Council passed a resolution to hold a public hearing on February 11, 2008, to receive public comment on proposed amendments to Chapter 11, Article XIX, Sections 11-301 through 11-304 of the Town Code regarding towing from private property. The purpose of this memorandum is to provide information concerning the proposed amendments.




At the November 7, 2007 meeting of the Town Council, Ms. Margaret McCann petitioned the Council regarding two cars belonging to her that were towed from the parking lot of Panera Bread on Franklin Street.  In her petition (Attachment 1), the petitioner raises several issues concerning the Town’s ordinance. Specifically, she expresses concerns about provisions regarding the placement, height, and visibility of parking signs; the size of the font on the signs; the enforcement of response time limits for the return of vehicles; whether “booting” would be a viable alternative to towing; and whether the ordinance should designate the amounts which could be charged for towing. 


The Town’s current towing ordinance requires that, in order for property owners to have unauthorized vehicles towed from their property, the property owners must place signs at each access or curb cut allowing vehicle access to their property, within five feet of the street right-of-way line.  The signs must:


Currently several downtown business owners have entered into arrangements with towing companies to remove unauthorized vehicles from their lots. 


In addition to the issues discussed in the attached petition, other citizen complaints about towing have been addressed to the Police Department.  The Police Department has received reports from citizens that tow operators have demanded unreasonably large fees, and the Department has dealt with several incidents of verbal disputes and alleged intimidation between a tow operator preparing to tow a vehicle and the owner or operator of the vehicle who has returned to the vehicle prior to its removal.




After review of the ordinance requirements, the Police Department has concluded that the current requirements as to the size, placement, and height, and lettering of the parking signs are sufficient to provide the visibility and information needed for persons seeking to park their vehicles in a private lot.  The Department also has concluded that the response time requirements are reasonable.


In the incident involving the petitioner, one vehicle was returned in twenty minutes; the other in forty minutes. Presumably the tow operator had to make two trips, one after the other, to retrieve and return the vehicles. The ordinance only requires that the tow operator respond to the towed vehicle’s location within thirty minutes of receiving a call. It does not require him to bring the vehicle to the motorist’s location.


After reviewing the incident involving the petitioner’s vehicles, the parking signs at Panera Bread were found to be in violation of the height requirement of the ordinance.  Chapel Hill Code Enforcement Officers informed the responsible party who subsequently took corrective measures.   


 “Booting” is suggested in the petition as an alternative to towing.  However, this would result in the improperly parked vehicle’s remaining on the property, which may not be a satisfactory resolution for property owners wishing to hold spaces open for their customers.  In addition, it would require purchase of boots by either the tow operator or property owner, an investment they may be hesitant to undertake.


Currently there are no provisions regarding towing fees in the Town ordinance.  Nor does the current ordinance clarify the rights and responsibilities of the tow operator and vehicle operator if the vehicle operator returns as the tow operator is preparing to remove the vehicle. 

For this reason, we propose an amendment to the current ordinance (Attachment 2). Pursuant to this amendment,





In addition, this amendment would require that within thirty minutes after a vehicle had been placed in storage, the tow truck operator who removed the vehicle must report by telephone to the Chapel Hill Police Department that the vehicle has been removed and provide the license number, a description of the vehicle, and its present location. 


These proposed provisions on towing from private lots are similar to the provisions of a City of Raleigh ordinance enacted in 2002, which has not been challenged in court.  We feel that making these changes in the ordinance will help clarify the responsibilities of all parties involved and lessen the likelihood of future incidents.




We recommend that the Council refer all comments from the public hearing to the Town Manager.  We will present a final recommendation to the Council at its business meeting on March 3, 2008, after review and consideration of these comments.




  1. Petition regarding no-parking sign ordinance (p. 4).
  2. Article XIX Sec. 11-301 through amended 307 (p. 5).