Avoiding Administrative Violations during VSF Inspections
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 our website HERE. 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. It is highly 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.
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 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 conduct. That license, like all other licenses, can be forfeited if the state determines you have failed to follow the law or applicable regulations. 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, you should familiarize yourself with 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 likely find yourself on the receiving end of a TDLR administrative violation.