Confused about towing? These DU law students are here to help

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Colorado lawmakers have spent the past few years beefing up protections for people who have their cars towed — an effort, they argued, needed to tilt the balance of power back toward vehicle owners.

But with so many changes in recent bills, it can be a headache for residents to parse out the new rules and rights.

Enter the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.

A group of students spent the fall semester in the school’s Law & Innovation Lab building an application to help Coloradans, in simple terms, learn their rights and seek assistance to combat predatory towing.

“We’re trying to give Coloradans a way to deal with an issue that is incredibly stressful in a calm and empowering way,” said Will Denney, a third-year law student who helped design the Towing Rights Advisor for Colorado tool.

The app, which the law students hope to debut after the new year, focuses on getting people the information they need in the moment and the immediate aftermath of a tow. That includes easy-to-understand guides in English and Spanish explaining the law and scripts to follow when dealing with tow operators.

The tool also provides avenues for individuals to file complaints with the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the towing industry, and Colorado’s attorney general, who has been empowered in recent legislation to take a more active role in consumer protection.

Spanish speakers will be able to use the tool in their native language, which will then generate and file a complaint in English.

DU has also partnered with the Community Economic Defense Project — formerly the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project — to help people pay to get their cars back after a tow.

“There’s been a predatory residential towing problem in Colorado for a number of years,” said Zach Neumann, the organization’s co-founder and executive director.

The economic assistance fund, which comes from the Community Economic Defense Project’s budget, will help individuals who can’t afford the 15% fee — or $60 maximum — it costs under the new towing law to get their car back immediately. The rest of the fees — which can often run into the hundreds of dollars — still must eventually be paid.

“We could never have built an app to navigate this,” Neumann said.

Denney and his fellow second- and third-year law students started by parsing HB22-1314, signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in June. The “Towing Carrier Nonconsensual Tows” bill made several key changes to Colorado towing law, most significantly capping the amount a person has to pay in order to get their car back immediately after a tow.

The bill also mandated that tow operators have to give 24 hours notice in most instances when they tow a car from an apartment complex lot or mobile home park, and it forbids towers from removing cars due to expired plates.

It was upsetting, Denney said, to talk to people about their towing horror stories: Tenants organizing watch groups to monitor their vehicles throughout the night because they were so scared they’d be towed from their own parking spots. People calling the police about an illegal tow, only to be told the authorities couldn’t help. Residents physically standing between their cars and tow operators in order to save their vehicles from being yanked off the lot.

“It was just unreal what these people go through,” Denney said. “There were no resources for these people at all.”

Director of Law and Innovation Lab Lois Lupica and third-year law student Will Denney work on the Towing Rights Advisor for Colorado tool at the University of Denver on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

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