City Attorney David Chiu

Chiu moves to block unscrupulous towing company from City contracts

 Auto Towing profited from illegally towing parked cars and installing fraudulent, misleading signs on private property

SAN FRANCISCO (August 3, 2023) — City Attorney David Chiu announced today that he initiated debarment proceedings against Auto Towing LLC to prohibit the company from bidding on or receiving City contracts. Auto Towing illegally towed cars of vulnerable individuals from a private commercial parking lot, installed fraudulent signs on private property to deceive vehicle owners, limited the times vehicles could be retrieved, and pressured vehicle owners to pay in cash.

City Attorney David Chiu
City Attorney David Chiu

“Having a car unjustly towed is a nightmare for any driver,” said City Attorney Chiu. “Auto Towing intentionally misled and scammed vulnerable people out of hundreds of dollars. Our City has no interest in contracting with exploitative businesses engaged in illegal conduct.”

Between February and May 2023, Auto Towing employees illegally towed at least six cars from the Bank of the West parking lot at 2675 San Bruno Avenue without the permission of the property owner. The victims whose cars were towed are primarily Spanish- and Cantonese-speaking residents, who are especially vulnerable to predatory tows. Auto Towing even towed a car from an accessible parking space despite a disabled parking placard displayed on the vehicle.

Auto Towing attempted to tow the car of the Bank of the West branch manager from the bank parking lot, but the manager was able to intervene before her car was taken away. It is unlawful for a tow company to tow a car from private property without the consent of the property owner.

Unbeknownst to Bank of the West, Auto Towing installed its own towing sign in the bank’s parking lot, which constitutes trespassing. The sign listed Auto Towing’s address as 1229 Underwood Avenue, the company’s permitted operating location. However, Auto Towing towed vehicles to a different towing company lot located on Oakdale Avenue, making it more difficult for vehicle owners to locate and retrieve their cars.

Under the California Vehicle Code, vehicle owners have the right to retrieve their vehicles 24 hours a day, any day of the year, and have the right to pay with cash or major credit card. However, Auto Towing told car owners they could not retrieve their cars on weekends and pressured them to pay cash. Auto Towing profited more than $3,000 from the six unauthorized tows known to investigators.

Debarment is an administrative enforcement procedure that authorizes the City to ban contractors from applying for or receiving City contracts for up to five years. In repeatedly illegally towing vehicles and trespassing on private property to install a fraudulent sign, Auto Towing violated multiple state and local laws, and the company’s conduct meets the grounds for debarment.

In March 2023, Auto Towing submitted a bid for a City contract to provide as-needed towing services and roadside assistance for City-owned vehicles and SFMTA buses, but has not yet been awarded a contract. If the debarment request is granted, Auto Towing may be barred from bidding on or receiving City contracts for five years, the maximum time permitted by law.

The counts and allegations in the debarment request against Auto Towing LLC can be found here. The City Attorney’s Office encourages any members of the public who may have had relevant interactions with Auto Towing to contact the Office through its web portal and hotline at (415) 554-3977.