VSF inspections are typically 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 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 your vehicle storage facility 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 very good that your inspection will occur in the next 6 months.
Second, look at what TDLR uses when they inspect your facility. A vehicle storage facility inspection checklist is available HERE. While many VSFs do not utilize this document, it the equivalent of being given the answers to part of an examination. Why any vehicle storage facility owner 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 your vehicle storage facility may have problems. If those problems are capable of being remedied before the inspection, you will likely have saved your company thousands of dollars in administrative fines.
Third, know where your documents and records are and be absolutely certain that they are accurate and 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 is not necessarily an authority on vehicle storage facility laws and regulations 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. 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 professional approach to inspections. This is, after all, an examination of a business that the state has granted 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 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 and adherence to 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.
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, save all required vehicle information, and prepare 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.
Download the TDLR Vehicle Storage Facility Inspection Checklist HERE.