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HOW TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL (AND VIOLATION-FREE) VSF INSPECTION

HOW TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL (AND VIOLATION-FREE) VSF INSPECTION

By Brian Edward Walters, Attorney at Law

            VSF inspections are triggered by one of two events. Either it is just time for your periodic inspection (which is required at least once every two years) or an inspection can be the result of a complaint filed against your vehicle storage facility at TDLR. Regardless of the cause of the inspection, there are several rather simple things you can do to properly prepare for a VSF inspection.

            First, be aware of when your “every two years” inspection is coming up. You may not receive notice from TDLR of when you will be inspected, but you can make a fairly good estimate of approximately when it will occur based on your last inspection date. For example, if it has been 18 months since your last inspection, the odds are just about certain that your inspection will occur in the next 6 months.

            Second, look at what TDLR uses when they inspect your facility. A VSF inspection checklist is available on TDLR’s website. As of Aug 1, 2019, it was located at this web address: https://www.tdlr.texas.gov/towing/forms/vsfchecklist.pdf. While many VSFs do not utilize this document, it is effectively you being given the answers to part of an examination that you know you will have to take. Why any person would choose not to study and review the TDLR VSF Inspection checklist is a mystery, but it happens. We strongly recommend that you conduct a personal inspection using the checklist – it will help you not only familiarize yourself with the VSF inspection process, but it will shed light on areas where you may find that you have problems. If those problems are capable of being fixed before the inspection, you will have saved yourself thousands of dollars in administrative fines.

            Third, know where your documents and records are and be absolutely certain that they are complete. If you store your records off-site, you should be certain that those off-site records will be easy to locate and bring to your VSF. If you store records on site, you should ensure that you have met the minimum information and document retention requirements under Texas law (if you have questions on what is required and which documents to keep, please see our record retention and information articles on that subject for VSFs).

            Fourth, remember that an inspector is not a lawyer and may not be the end-all authority on towing and storage laws in Texas. We have heard many complaints from towing companies and vehicle storage facilities alike that sound like this, “The inspector was out here last time and said that my signs were fine!” That may well be the case, but you should always remember that it is a prosecutor (a licensed attorney at TLDR), not the inspector, who makes the final determination on when to prosecute a violation and when a violation will be alleged to have occurred.

            Fifth, be polite and cooperative. Some inspectors are professional and, from time to time, some are less than professional. However, regardless of how the inspector behaves, you should always maintain a cool and professional approach to inspections. This is, after all, an examination of your business that the state has given you a license to perform. That license, like all other licenses, can be forfeited if the state determines you have failed to follow the law or the rules. If a violation is found, that does not mean that you have already lost. It simply means that a non-lawyer representative of the state believes, based on his or her personal opinion and knowledge, that your vehicle storage facility failed to follow the law. It is certainly not a finding of guilt or liability.

            Finally, know the law! Even if you are not a lawyer, operating a vehicle storage facility in Texas requires a good deal of understanding in relation to both the Texas Vehicle Storage Facility Act, the Texas Towing and Booting Act, and the administrative rules that govern vehicle storage facilities and towing companies. To a certain degree, an inspection will be a test of your knowledge of those laws. If you do not know what you need to write down, what documents you need to keep, or what you need to do to charge a fee for a particular service, you will certainly find yourself on the receiving end of a TDLR administrative violation. These laws are available on TDLR’s website and a few other websites on the internet. A Google search for these terms, “Texas Vehicle Storage Facility Act” or “Texas Towing and Booting Act” will likely get you what you need. Read them in full and then read them again. They may be confusing and written in legalese, but as a licensee, you have the responsibility to comply with those laws and rules.

            This article can best be summarized as follows: Be Prepared and Be Professional! VSF inspections are a frequent source of administrative violations on everything from sign lettering to sign content to broken windows on vehicles stored in the yard to fence height in the yard. Inspectors have a great deal of latitude in conducting an inspection and will very likely dig into documents and areas with the intent of finding a violation (even if it is difficult to fine or only a minor violation). Prosecutors are not present during the inspection process and must base their decisions on the information they receive from inspectors. The most successful (i.e. the “no violation”) inspections will be at VSFs that maintain a strict level of diligence when it comes to maintaining their yard (protecting vehicles), keep all required documents, document and saving all required vehicle information, and being prepared ahead of time for inspections. If you can implement office systems that help your employees to maintain compliance year-round, you will dramatically reduce the need for of pre-inspection preparation and find that administrative violations are few and far between.

Contact Info

  • Southwest Tow Operators
  • 660 N Central Expressway, Suite 230
  • Plano, Texas 75074
  • Toll Free: (866) 320-9300

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