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Austin Rental Companies Press for Prosecution of Equipment Thieves

Austin rental companies are pressing for stronger prosecution of customers who don’t pay for rental equipment, Texas Rental Association vice president and president of Safe Way Rental Equipment Co. in Austin Terry Norris told RER. About 40 locally owned rental companies say they have lost millions of dollars because of customers who keep equipment past their contracts and fail to pay.

The Austin Police Department agreed in 2005 to prosecute renters who hadn’t returned equipment, but would drop charges once equipment was returned regardless of lateness. In many cases, once warrants were issued, renters would return the equipment but still didn’t pay. Rental center owners could not gain district attorney cooperation in processing the cases unless police pursued theft-of-services charges, thus forcing rental companies to resort to time-consuming civil suits.

“They will prosecute if equipment is not returned, but we want them to prosecute if not paid for as well,” Norris told RER. “They do prosecute car rental theft cases. A car costs $20,000, and a Bobcat costs $20,000, so what’s the difference? And some of our equipment is a lot more expensive than that. They say they don’t want to devote manpower, but all they have to do is issue a warrant. We’re talking about laws that are already on the books, all we want is enforcement.”

Austin police officials last week told Norris and rental center owner Kevin Moore of Austin Rent Way they would reconsider the matter in response to an article in the Austin American-Statesman shedding light on the rental companies’ situation.

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