Expired Registration Apartment Towing

Two residents at the Baystone Apartments in Houston recently appealed a tow hearing all the way from justice court to the 1st District Court of Appeals. These tenants had sued Baystone Apartments and Houston Central Auto Storage, Inc. for a tow hearing in relation to their Jeep Liberty being towed. The fight in this case was over a lease term that stated vehicles could be towed immediately for expired registration stickers and how that term was affected by the language of the Texas Towing and Booting Act (Chapter 2308 of the Texas Occupations Code).

Facts and Summary of Procedure.

Tenant’s car was towed for expired registration. Tenant recovered the vehicle from the VSF shortly after it was towed and paid for towing and storage ($580.18). Tenant then filed for a tow hearing in JP Court, at which the no one appeared for the other side. Tenant, accordingly, won by default at the tow hearing. The towing company appealed the justice court’s decision to the county court at law, which found probable cause for the tow and entered a take-nothing judgment against the tenant. Tenant then appealed that decision to the 1st District Court of Appeals in Houston.

The Court of Appeals looked at both the language of the apartment lease, the towing policy attached to the lease, and the language of the Towing Act. The reason for the tow was not disputed – a notice sticker had been placed on the tenant’s vehicle and, after four days, the vehicle was towed for expired registration. The apartment lease stated:

“We may have any unauthorized or illegally parked vehicles towed or booted according to state law at the owner or operator’s expense at any time if the vehicle has no current license or registration, and we have given you at least 10 days’ notice that the vehicle will be towed if not removed.”

Lease Agreement

In contrast, the towing policy stated:

“Inoperable Vehicle, Flat Tires, up on Jacks, Wrecked, Broken Windows, For Sale sign, Expired Tags and so on is strictly prohibited anywhere on the property. I understand that failure to comply will result in management towing the vehicle without notice and at the vehicle owner’s expense.”

Towing Policy Addendum

Based on the quotes above, there was already a conflict in the towing policy language when compared to the lease agreement. The language of the Texas Towing and Booting Act, however, also contradicted the towing policy addendum language:

A contract provision providing for the towing from a parking facility of a vehicle that does not display an unexpired license plate or registration insignia is valid only if the provision requires the owner or operator of the vehicle to be given at least 10 days’ written notice that the vehicle will be towed from the parking facility at the vehicle owner’s or operator’s expense if it is not removed from the parking facility.

Tex. Occ. Code ยง 2308.253.

The court further noted that the Texas Towing and Booting Act states that a lease provision that is in contradiction to the terms of the act is void.

Conclusion – 10 Days’ Notice is Required – No Probable Cause to Tow

In its conclusion, the court found that the 10 day notice requirement in the Towing and Booting Act balances the equities between the property managers, towing companies, and tenants. It provides a reasonable chance to resolve defects with vehicles (such as registration) and allows tenants to comply with lease terms. Accordingly, the court found that the towing company’s failure to comply with the ten day notice requirement in the Towing and Booting Act destroyed probable cause to tow the Tenant’s vehicle. A link to the case is available HERE.