Know your rights: Be careful whose car you tow

By Richard Alderman
June 15, 2013 at 1:15 a.m.

I was parked at an area parking lot. When I returned to my car, it was towed. The store that I parked in front of told me I parked in one of its parking spots. It had my car towed and told me where to pick it up. This cost me hundreds of dollars. Is this legal?

The owner of a parking lot has the right to tow cars that are wrongfully parked but only if it complies with a very specific law. Unless you were given actual notice your car would be towed, to tow a car there must be signs at the entrance to the lot, mounted on a pole or wall and installed so that the bottom edge of the sign is no lower than 5 feet and no higher than 8 feet above ground level. The sign must be at least 18 inches wide and 24 inches tall, contain the international symbol for towing vehicles and a statement describing who may park in the parking facility and prohibiting all others. The sign must also have the words "Unauthorized vehicles will be towed at owner's or operator's expense" and a statement of the days and hours of towing enforcement. Finally, the sign must have a number, including the area code, of a telephone that is answered 24 hours a day to enable an owner or operator of a vehicle to locate the vehicle.

If the store did not have proper signage, it can be liable for all the costs of towing and storage, as well as any damage to the car. If the owner of the lot acted intentionally, knowingly or recklessly, he or she can be liable for $1,000 plus three times the amount of fees assessed in the vehicle's removal, towing or storage. I suggest you go back to the lot and see if there are proper signs. If not, let the owner know you expect to be reimbursed what it cost you when your car was towed.

How many days do I have to change my mind after I buy a car? I signed a contract late at night and went in the next morning to cancel. The dealer told me I was out of luck and couldn't change my mind.

The dealer is correct. As far as the law is concerned, you generally cannot change your mind after you sign a contract. The main exceptions to this law are health spa contracts, door-to-door sales, timeshare contracts and certain contracts that put a lien on your homestead. Unless you were misled or deceived into signing the agreement, it is legally binding. I suggest you talk with the dealer, explain why you changed your mind and see if it won't agree to cancel the contract.

I received a loan from a friend. He recently passed, and his wife is trying to collect the money as executor of his estate. There was never any written paperwork. Her lawyer has sent me a copy of the check that shows I deposited it. Can she make me pay this money back?

If you borrowed the money, you have a legal obligation to repay it. If you do not, you can be sued.

The fact that there is no written agreement or promissory note does not matter.

The check indicates the amount of money you received, and you seem to understand it was a loan and not a gift.

How long does a bankruptcy stay on my credit report?

Most information becomes obsolete and is not reported after seven years. A bankruptcy remains for 10 years.

How long do I have to live in Texas to get divorced here? How soon after the divorce can I remarry?

You need to live in Texas for six months before filing for a divorce. As a general rule, you may remarry 30 days after the divorce.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at



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