State laws and municipal ordinances establish legal authority for an apartment complex to utilize the services of a vehicle towing service. These laws differ from one jurisdiction to another. Indeed, on occasion state law and local ordinance in the same jurisdiction actually may conflict with one another. The primary source for information about towing-related issues is the local municipal code.
Laws and ordinances regarding an apartment complex engaging a towing service are rooted in the theory of trespass. In the United States, the laws of trespass permit the owner of real estate -- or an agent of the owner -- to remove an authorized person or item of property from the premises. Apartment complex owners or managers are vested with authority to remove vehicles parked on the premises without authorization based on these laws and ordinances arising out of concepts of trespass.
Most apartment complexes post signs warning people not to park in their lots without express authority. Some states and municipalities require this advance warning. On the other hand, not all jurisdictions require such a warning. In some locations, you park at an apartment complex outside a zone clearly identified for visitors at your own risk.
Damage to Vehicle
Assuming that the vehicle is not authorized to be on the apartment complex premises, the complex and the towing service will not be responsible for damage due to simple negligence. The car was illegally on the property. If the towing service causes damage to a car due to carelessness, the owner of the vehicle cannot recover compensation from the service or the apartment complex. If gross negligence is demonstrated, the car owner may be able to recover compensation for damages. Gross negligence is conduct that represents extreme carelessness -- removing the vehicle from the property with a truck not designed to tow, for example.
Resident of Complex
A resident of an apartment complex who elects to park somewhere else on the premises and not in her assigned spot is subject to towing. The authorization to park on the premises extends only to the assigned space.
The owners or managers of an apartment complex must exercise due diligence in selecting a towing service to remove vehicles. The requirements include screening the service to determine its reputation for reliability and ethical business practices. An apartment complex exposes itself to liability if it selects a disreputable towing service because it failed to do any sort of background check on that company.