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Portland's mayor Ted Wheeler proposing new rules to give owners a chance to avoid tow fees.

KOIN 6 NEWS IMAGE - A car is towed away in an undated photo.Trying to recover a stolen car can be a nightmare for an owner, KOIN 6 News reports.

On top of the trauma inflicted by the actual theft, owners of cars that are found are still on the hook to bail their vehicles out of towing company lots — and the fees can be steep.

KOIN 6 NEWS IMAGE - Lynda DrummLynda Drumm had her car stolen in August of 2018. The 1995 Honda Accord vanished from where it had been parked in front of her apartment in Hillsboro.

Drumm, thinking her Honda was gone for good, ended up buying another used car.

But she got a letter in December, explaining that her stolen car had been found and a tow company had hauled it to its lot.

Drumm went to the lot to retrieve her vehicle. But she was in for another shock.

"By the time we got there, it was like almost $700 and right now it's clear up to like a thousand-something dollars," Drumm told KOIN 6 News.

She said the tow company told her that she could release the car's title so the company could sell it. Whatever it sold for would be deducted from what she owed in fees.

The problem was, Drumm couldn't find the car's title. She said she went through the process of getting a new title issued, but was still waiting on paperwork.

Meanwhile, the tow lot fees kept stacking up.

Drumm said she doesn't have that kind of money to pay the full fee and, even if she did, she'd put it toward her grandson's education.

After several failed attempts to negotiate a lower bill, the tow company did eventually drop the bill from $1,150 to $670.

Her daughter, Cassandra Stutzman, said there doesn't seem to be any laws that protect people like her mom from these kinds of experiences with towing companies.

"There should be something where, if you're a victim of a theft, auto theft, you shouldn't be treated the exact same as somebody who's intentionally going out and breaking the law," Stutzman said.

Changes ahead?

According to Stutzman, a towing company only has to notify police that it's removing a car — regardless of whether it's stolen. This leaves no room for the owner to make any requests.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler wants to change that.

He recently proposed new rules that would allow car theft victims to avoid a tow fee by indicating on the police report whether the car should be left where it's found — after police notify them.

But that's only if police are involved. For Drumm, her stolen car was found on private property and the tow company was called in without the involvement of police.

Wheeler's proposal could still have a big effect on future experiences in the Portland metro area, but it wouldn't change things on a statewide level.

There is, however, a bill currently in the legislature that instructs the Oregon attorney general to study consumer protection and towing and issue a report by the end of the year.

For Michael Porter with the Oregon Tow Truck Association, the proposed towing policy in Portland could work across the state of Oregon but with a few tweaks, especially when it comes to the communication between various counties.

"Each county doesn't necessarily talk to each other," said Porter. "As a tower, we're kind of stuck in the middle of that and DMV doesn't have a record that your car has been stolen."

The public can weigh in on Wheeler's proposal until Feb. 14.

For now, it's worth noting that the only way to protect against big tow fees if a car is stolen is by having full-coverage insurance.

KOIN 6 News is a media partner of the Portland Tribune.

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