Nevada Towing Companies Accused of Targeting Poor People With Excessive Fees

Despite a 2021 law outlawing towing companies from taking cars with expired plates, a lawmaker says they're still doing it and charging owners exorbitant fees.

A lawmaker in Nevada says towing companies are still disproportionately targeting low-income people by towing unregistered cars and has proposed a bill to “clean up” a two-year-old law forbidding the practice. North Las Vegas Assemblyman Cameron H. Miller proposed Assembly Bill 303, which passed the state Senate last week, outlawing so-called “impound fees” that could cost hundreds instead of “storage fees,” which were made illegal in 2021. 

Nevada passed a law in 2021 that would ban companies from towing cars from apartment complexes or neighborhoods with homeowners’ associations simply for having expired registrations. Cars can still be towed from those places for parking illegally or in other owners’ spots. Miller said he was alerted to the loophole by residents who said their cars were taken from their homes for the expired plates and charged exorbitant fees to retrieve those. The news was reported by Nevada Current.

“Towing a vehicle is sometimes necessary,” Miller said. “But it is not necessary if I am at home parking my car in my designated parking spot and my vehicle just happens to not be registered. It’s not a safety issue. It’s not even against the law because I’m not driving the vehicle, so my car doesn’t have to be registered.”

Proponents of the bill say towing companies routinely patrol parking lots looking for unregistered cars and take them, charging fees that could cost low-income owners hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars. The bill also includes language requiring towing companies to waive fees for people who present a “financial hardship,” like receiving government assistance, living in low-income housing, or having expenses for “the necessities of life that exceed his or her income.” 

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“While having a vehicle mistakenly towed for some is just a pesky inconvenience, for others it can result in the loss of a job, a day’s wages, or the decision to get the car out of the tow yard or pay the light bill,” Miller said. 

Miller said he accompanied a constituent to a tow yard to ask the operator why they were charging a storage fee when it was clearly an impound fee, which was prohibited in the 2021 law. Miller said the operator threatened to call the police for trespassing because he wasn’t the owner of the vehicle. 

The bill’s opponents say the law overreaches and could threaten to put towing companies out of business, adding that the state already regulates the fees they can charge. “Tow companies are an integral part of our economy and ecology,” Nevada State Apartment Association Executive Director Robin Lee wrote in opposition. “This bill would particularly cripple small businesses that our economy relies on.”

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