Can Tennessee Police Tow My Car from Private Property? Here’s What the Law Says

Imagine parking your car on a friend’s driveway, only to return and find it gone – towed away by the police. This unsettling scenario raises a crucial question: can Tennessee police legally tow your car from private property? The answer, like most legal matters, is nuanced and depends on specific circumstances. While police have the authority to tow vehicles under certain conditions, property owners generally hold the primary right to manage their land and authorize towing. Let’s delve into the intricacies of Tennessee law to understand when your car might be vulnerable on private property.

Police Authority to Tow Vehicles:

Tennessee police, like their counterparts nationwide, bear the responsibility of maintaining public safety and order. This responsibility translates into broad authority granted by the Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) to enforce traffic laws, address public nuisances, and investigate criminal activity. However, this authority does not automatically extend to towing vehicles parked on private property.

Specific Scenarios for Towing on Private Property:

In specific situations, though, police can tow vehicles from private property, even without the owner’s consent. These scenarios include:

  • Abandoned or Inoperable Vehicles: If your car sits idle and neglected for an extended period, deemed abandoned according to TCA, the police can remove it to prevent safety hazards and maintain public order. Similarly, if your car is inoperable and poses a risk on the property, the police can intervene for public safety reasons.
  • Obstruction of Public Ways: If your parked car blocks access to public roads or sidewalks, the police have the authority to tow it to ensure uninterrupted public passage. This applies even if the car is parked on private property but impedes public access.
  • Criminal Activity: If your car is suspected of involvement in criminal activity, such as drug trafficking or being a stolen vehicle, the police can tow it to gather evidence and investigate further. This authority stems from their responsibility to uphold the law and prevent criminal activity.
  • Public Nuisances: If your car creates a public nuisance, like excessive noise or environmental hazards, the police can initiate its removal. However, in such cases, they typically require the property owner’s consent or a court order to proceed.

Property Owner’s Rights and Authority:

While police have specific powers to tow in certain situations, property owners generally retain the primary right to manage their land and authorize towing. This principle of “dominion” grants property owners control over their land and its use, including establishing parking regulations and restrictions.

Private Towing Companies:

Property owners can leverage this right by authorizing private towing companies to remove vehicles violating their rules or posing safety hazards. To avoid disputes, clear signage and communication of parking regulations are crucial.

Consent and Cooperation:

Cooperation between police and property owners is paramount in towing decisions. Police often seek the owner’s consent before towing a vehicle from private property. However, in exigent circumstances, such as immediate danger to public safety, they may act independently without consent.

Potential Disputes and Legal Recourse:

Misunderstandings and unlawful towing can occur. If you believe your car was towed without proper justification, you have the right to challenge the action through legal means. This includes filing a complaint against the police or towing company, pursuing a civil lawsuit for damages or wrongful tow, and seeking legal counsel for guidance.


Navigating the complexities of towing on private property in Tennessee requires a balanced understanding of both police authority and property owner rights. While police have the power to tow under specific circumstances, property owners generally hold the primary right to manage their land and authorize removal. Remember, knowledge of the law and seeking legal counsel when necessary can empower you to protect your rights and navigate challenging situations.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with a qualified attorney for specific legal guidance regarding your situation.

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