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New Chicago tow ordinance is not putting the brakes on rogue towers

New Chicago tow ordinance is not putting the brakes on rogue towers
New Chicago tow ordinance is not putting the brakes on rogue towers 08:09

CHICAGO (CBS) -- "For us, it was either pay our rent and our bills or try and get this car out," Jonnie Zing said as he described the dilemma his family faced as of mid-December. 

After an accident, the Zings became victims of a tow truck company operating without a license to tow vehicles in the city of Chicago.

The accident happened right before Thanksgiving. For more than a month, the Zings have been negotiating with the tow company and their insurer over the price to pay to get the keys back.

The Zing family's damaged car Jonnie Zing

The towing bill, which Zing claims was blank when he signed it, showed 11 separate $895 charges totaling nearly $10,000.  He says the tow truck driver handed it back to him folded up at the accident site. Zing was surprised by all the fees. Two weeks later, the company was willing to accept $3,000. At the last minute, the price rose again.

Zing family outside tow lot address in early December, hoping to get car back. Tim Viste/CBS Chicago

A new city of Chicago ordinance passed on May 26, 2021 and took effect 90 days later, in late August. It was supposed to put the brakes on wreck chasers and protect people like the Zings. But, 15 months later, the CBS 2 Investigators found very few companies complying with the law and potentially hundreds more violating it.


On the day the ordinance passed, May 26, 2021, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) -- who sponsored it -- had a lot of hope. He said during that City Council meeting, "Today is the beginning of a safer, more accountable tomorrow."

The new ordinance requires most companies towing damaged or disabled vehicles within the city of Chicago to get a $250 license for each storage lot and each tow truck. City of Chicago tow trucks and tow companies with a city contract are exempt.

Chicago Tow License Amended Ordinance by Adam Harrington on Scribd

The law also makes it illegal for tow trucks to solicit business at an accident scene without being called by the vehicle owner, police, or insurer; to misrepresent themselves; to mislead, or to threaten the vehicle owner.

According to Zing, the tow truck company that showed up at the accident, Endless Towing, passed itself off as the one called by the Zings' insurance.

"I called after, and they [the insurer] said, 'No, we never sent a vehicle.'" Zing said. "And I was like: 'What do you mean you never sent a vehicle? someone took our car.'"

At Council last year, Ald. Villegas spoke about the impact of rogue towers on people like the Zings, "This has been a public safety nightmare," and about the promise of his new ordinance, "It will create accountability for both the good and bad actors and life-changing protections for all communities."

The ordinance provides for penalties of at least $500 and up to $20,000 in fines and potential arrest for ignoring cease and desist orders issued.


On Dec. 8, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) told CBS 2 that 582 tow companies are actively registered as safety relocator towers in five counties: Cook, DuPage, Kane, Will, and Winnebago. CBS 2 analyzed City of Chicago publicly available data, which shows 27 companies with tow truck and/or storage lot licenses issued as of mid-November.

That leaves the potential for dozens, if not hundreds, of tow companies operating without licenses in city limits. 

"Some of them are just licensed with the state, out of Chicago, and they'll come over here just to do chasing," said Ira Navarro, who is an investigator with Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), the city department tasked with licensing tow truck companies and enforcing the new law.

A BACP spokesperson says the department made several attempts to inform tow truck companies about the new licensing requirements. In September 2021, May 2022, and June 2022, the department emailed notices and newsletters about the ordinance. The department also shared messaging on social media, held a webinar and used digital billboards between September 2021 and September 2022 to make sure tow truck companies got the message.

But it's not hard for city investigators to find tow trucks operating without licenses showing up at accident scenes, targeting unsuspecting drivers.

The CBS 2 Investigators rode along during a recent enforcement effort. It took less than an hour for Navarro and his team to find a tow truck on the scene of an accident with injuries at 4700 S. Cicero Ave. It was an unmarked tow truck without the required green sticker indicating it had a Chicago license.

Look for this decal on the windshield of a tow truck to ensure it's licensed in the City of Chicago Business Affairs and Consumer Protection/City of Chicago

Navarro found a business card inside the truck, indicating the driver was representing All Tows Matter. Investigators learned from the car's driver that the tow truck driver tried to convince her to let him hook up her damaged vehicle. BACP got there in time to save the car from being hauled away.

BACP issued several citations to All Tows Matter that day, including for operating a lot and truck without licenses, for using scanners to find accident scenes and for soliciting business. 

"He's also going to get a cease-and-desist order not to operate that vehicle," said Navarro. 

If caught ignoring a cease-and-desist order, the driver or owner could be arrested, and the truck impounded by Chicago Police.

Through a public records request, the CBS 2 Investigators learned that receiving a cease-and-desist order has spurred a few tow truck companies to apply for and be issued licenses for their lots and trucks.


CBS 2 discovered some big loopholes in the law. One allows for city licenses to be issued to companies with spotty state histories.

We found one of those companies. It's Batavia-based Priority Wrecker Service. It had more than two dozen state citations issued against it between the time the law took effect  last year and when it received its Chicago licenses this year in June and August. Most of those violations were for no pre-tow disclosures, involving customers who complained the company told them one price on the phone and then billed them for another, much higher price, after the vehicle was on the hook or already moved. 

Priority Wrecker Service also has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB gave Priority that rating in January 2021.

CBS 2 brought this loophole to the attention Ald. Villegas. He said he was unaware that a record of prior state citations and a failing BBB rating are not factors considered before issuing licenses. 

He said: "That is alarming. And if it's not in the application, then we need to put that on there -- so that way, we can make sure that we are not licensing bad actors."

The only prior state black mark asked about, under the new law, is a revocation of a company's safety relocator registration within the past five years from the date of the application or renewal. ICC records CBS 2 obtained show Priority Wrecker's Safety Relocation certificate was revoked briefly in April 2022, before it applied for and received its city licenses. 

BACP tells CBS 2 as long as the company truthfully reports that prior revocation and currently has an active registration it can still receive Chicago licenses. BACP confirmed that's what happened in Priority's case.

Another loophole, is that companies are simply not complying with the law despite facing fines, cease and desist orders to stop operating and possible arrest if caught. "We're going to have to take a look at that, because that's inexcusable," said Ald. Villegas.

CBS 2 discovered that All Tows Matter had five previous cease and desist orders before getting its sixth on the day of the ride-along with city investigators.

Ald. Villegas said he is committed to improving the law. 

"We've got to follow through when making sure that there's teeth in this ordinance," he said.

As for the rogue tower that took the Zings' car, Endless Towing is facing state revocation of its safety relocation certificate for $3,500 in unpaid fines. Those fines are the result of 4 violations unrelated to the Zings' case. Those violations involve similar circumstances including misrepresentation of affiliation and no pre-tow disclosure.

The Zings finally got their Jeep back after their insurer paid Endless Towing $4,500.

We reached out to the tow companies mentioned in our report. An Endless Towing representative we spoke with told us the company applied a few weeks ago for its city licenses. As for the other companies, we were either unable to reach them or our messages were not returned.

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