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

Parking your car on private property in Wisconsin might seem like a safe haven from the watchful eyes of the police, but the truth is a little more nuanced. While generally, police cannot tow your car from private property without the owner’s consent or a warrant, there are exceptions that can leave you scratching your head and wondering if your car is truly secure. Understanding these exceptions and the authority of both police and property owners in Wisconsin is crucial to avoiding a surprise tow truck encounter.

Understanding Police Authority on Private Property:

Unlike public roads, where police have broad authority to regulate traffic and parking, private property presents a different legal landscape. Generally, police cannot tow your car from private property unless they have the explicit consent of the property owner or a warrant. This is because private property is considered an extension of the owner’s home, and the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, including the seizure of your vehicle.

However, this doesn’t mean your car is completely untouchable. Police do have some exceptions to this general rule:

  • Public Safety Hazards: If your car poses an immediate threat to public safety, such as blocking emergency access, obstructing traffic flow, or creating a fire risk, police can tow it without the owner’s consent. This also applies to abandoned vehicles that are deemed public health hazards.
  • Evidence of a Crime: If your car is directly linked to criminal activity, such as being used in the commission of a crime or containing evidence of a crime, police can seize it with a warrant. Reasonable suspicion of criminal activity within the vehicle can also justify a tow.
  • Warrants: If police obtain a warrant based on probable cause to believe your car is connected to criminal activity, they can tow it regardless of the property owner’s consent.
  • Impoundment Orders: In some cases, courts may issue impoundment orders for reasons like unpaid parking tickets or driving under the influence. These orders authorize police to tow your car even from private property.

Understanding Private Property Owner Authority:

While police authority on private property is limited, property owners have the right to control parking on their own land. This includes the ability to designate parking areas, restrict unauthorized parking, and even tow vehicles that violate their rules.

To exercise this right effectively, property owners must follow specific signage requirements:

  • Conspicuous Signs: “No Parking” or “Tow Away Zone” signs must be clearly visible with letters at least two inches high and contrasting colors.
  • Specificity: Signs should clearly state the towing company that will be used and potential towing fees.

With proper signage in place, property owners can directly authorize a tow truck to remove unauthorized vehicles. However, without signage, they must first involve the police. This involves requesting a citation for the illegal parking violation before calling for a tow. Additionally, reasonable efforts should be made to notify the vehicle owner before towing, if possible.

Specific Scenarios and Relevant Laws:

Understanding the general rules is helpful, but it’s also important to consider specific scenarios and the relevant laws that apply. Here are a few examples:

  • Parking on a Neighbor’s Driveway: If you park on your neighbor’s driveway without permission and they have proper signage, they can call for a tow without involving the police.
  • Overstaying Welcome at a Friend’s House: If you park at a friend’s house and exceed the agreed-upon parking duration, they can either authorize a tow or request police involvement if there’s a violation of parking regulations.
  • Expired Registration Tag: Police cannot tow your car from private property solely for an expired registration tag. However, if it’s combined with other violations, like blocking a driveway or having an inoperable vehicle, it might justify a tow.
  • Suspicion of DUI on Private Property: Just parked on private property and suspected of DUI doesn’t give police enough reason to tow your car. They need probable cause based on observations beyond just being parked, such as erratic driving or failed sobriety tests.

Tips for Protecting Yourself from Unlawful Towing:

Knowing your rights and taking proactive measures can help you avoid unnecessary towing situations:

  • Be mindful of parking regulations and signage. Always check for “No Parking” or “Tow Away Zone” signs and follow the instructions.
  • Communicate clearly with property owners. If you’re unsure about parking rules, ask the property owner for permission or clarification.
  • Maintain valid vehicle registration and insurance. Having valid documents can help avoid issues if police become involved.
  • If towed, document the situation. Take pictures of the signage, the tow truck, and your car’s location. Contact legal counsel if you believe the tow was unlawful.


The legal landscape surrounding towing from private property in Wisconsin can be complex. While police generally require consent or a warrant, exceptions exist for public safety hazards, evidence of crime, and specific court orders. Property owners, on the other hand, have significant control over parking on their land with proper signage. Understanding these dynamics and your own rights empowers you to park with confidence and avoid the unwelcome surprise of a towed vehicle.

Remember, proactive measures are key. Always be mindful of parking regulations and signage, communicate clearly with property owners, and ensure your vehicle registration and insurance are valid. While the law can be intricate, staying informed and avoiding risky parking situations can keep your car safe and sound on private property in Wisconsin.

Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful:

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