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SF Will Now Give You 72 Hours Before Towing Your Car for Unpaid Parking Tickets

A nearly three-year lawsuit over towing practices comes to a close
By - posted 10/7/2021 No Comment

A San Francisco Superior Court judge this week ruled in favor of the city of San Francisco after the judge acknowledged recent changes made to the city’s vehicle towing policies, bringing a nearly three-year lawsuit over towing practices to a close.

The nonprofit Coalition on Homelessness filed a lawsuit against the city back in December 2018, alleging the practice of towing or placing a boot on a vehicle for unpaid parking tickets was disruptive for people who can’t afford to pay their debt, in particular for people who live in their vehicles.

The suit also named the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the San Francisco Police Department, which are both tasked with enforcing parking tickets. Under the practice, the city tows vehicles with five or more unpaid parking tickets. The practice nets some 2,000 to 4,000 seized vehicles each year for debt collection, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which represented the Coalition on Homelessness in court.

The suit alleged that once a vehicle has been towed, vehicle owners are then forced to pay astronomical fees to retrieve their vehicle, oftentimes resulting in people permanently losing their vehicle if they can’t pay the fees.

In June, as the lawsuit was ongoing, SFMTA officials moved to update its towing policies. Under the changes, a vehicle belonging to a verified homeless person can’t be towed or booted for late unpaid parking tickets. Additionally, vehicle owners who have more than $2,500 in parking tickets will be given 72 hours to resolve their late tickets prior to towing, and vehicle owners will also receive either mail or written notice upon receiving four or five late parking tickets.

Furthermore, the SFMTA has committed to implement a variety of payment programs for low-income people to reduce parking and towing fees. Recognizing the recent changes, Judge Ethan Schulman on Monday ruled in favor of the city to resolve the Coalition on Homelessness’ suit. The coalition and its supporters declared the recently implemented changes a victory.

“Nearly 2,000 people live in their vehicles. Hundreds have lost their only form of shelter simply because they are unable to pay for their parking tickets. That the SFMTA will no longer tow unhoused people for unpaid parking tickets is a big victory,” Coalition on Homelessness executive director Jennifer Friedenbach said. “But we must continue to fight for the rights of vehicularly housed and low-income San Franciscans — who the SFMTA continues to target and tow in many other ways.”

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