Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Towing Fiasco

A couple Saturdays ago, Meezy and I went to a friend's condo off McKinney to celebrate his 30th birthday. We parked on Clyde Street, which runs along the backside of the State Thomas Ravello apartments.  You are free to park along that street, but it's usually hard to find a space.  We drove all the way down the street, and I passed a spot and noticed it was open.  It was the first open space before you reach a driveway that leads into the complex.  I knew I wasn't allowed to block the driveway, but there was definitely enough room for me to park along the curb, so it was all good.  There was a truck parked up ahead in front of where I wanted to park, and the driver must've been a worker delivering some things or working on a unit, because he had equipment strewn across the driveway.  Meezy got out and moved a couple of the items so I could have an easier time parallel parking into the spot, and then he moved them back when I was done.  I wasn't infringing on his work space, and I wasn't parked in front of the driveway.  Sweet.  Off to my friend's condo.

Fast forward 4 hours, and we make the trek down Clyde street to get my car.  We walk and walk and never see my car.  "Wasn't it parked right here? We didn't pass it, right?" After a couple minutes of checking and double-checking, it was pretty clear.  My car wasn't where I left it.  Holy crap.  That's never happened to me before.  We look around and notice a sign that says this:

How did I not see that before??  Well, the reason I didn't see it was because one of the signs was in front of the work truck, so it was blocked from my view.  The other sign was behind my car, because I parallel parked into the spot, so I never saw it.  Dang it!  I was so mad at myself.  I remembered making sure to not park in front of the driveway, because I knew that wouldn't be allowed, but I didn't realize the complex had put up these signs a couple space lengths in front of and behind the driveway, to make sure nobody parked anywhere near it.  It really was an honest oversight on my part.  I wouldn't have seen these signs unless I had gotten out of the driver's side and walked over to the passenger side before walking back down the street.  That wouldn't make sense because my friend's condo was down the street, on the driver's side, so I literally never had the occasion to see them.  I accepted my fate and figured I better go reclaim my car.

Wait a second.  Where was my car, though?  Nowhere on the sign above did it tell me what to do if my car had been towed.  It didn't even say "Unauthorized vehicles will be towed at owner's expense."  It just had a picture of a tow truck on it.  Had my car really been towed, or was this just like a warning sign put up by the complex in hopes that people wouldn't park there?  I was quite confused, so I called 311.  They told me to call the police, because if it was the city that had towed me, they would have a record of my car in one of their storage lots.  That would make sense, because I was on a public street, not actually inside the complex.  I called the police; they couldn't find my car.  They asked why I thought I had been towed, and I told them about the sign, but that it didn't have any contact info on it.  They said it should tell me where to find my car if it wasn't a city sign.  I agreed!  I wasn't sure what to do next, so I called the actual apartment complex.  It was after 5pm on a Saturday, so it went to their answering service.  I told them that I thought someone from their complex had gotten me towed, and they told me they had no idea which company would've been called.  Well, that's helpful.

I sat there for a few minutes, really at a loss.  Luckily some friends that had also been at the party drove by right then, so we flagged them down.  They were nice enough to drive us the 11 miles back to our house, which was completely out of their way, and took 30 minutes because we had to stay off the highway.  (They have a truck, and their 3 kids were in the backseat, so Meezy and the other husband had to ride in the bed while me and the wife rode in the front seats).  Once we got home, I tried the police again, just to see if there had been a delay from when I would've gotten towed, to when it showed up in their system.  Still no luck finding my car.  I called my sister, a former DPD officer, and asked for her advice.  She told me that if it was the city, they would've had a record of my car in their lot by then.  She also said if it had been towed by a private company, they are required to put their contact info on the sign, and also alert the police.  I started to get pretty nervous.  Had my car been stolen?  My sister contacted a couple of her former coworkers who were still active officers, and they double-checked the system.  Still nothing.  By this time, I was pretty confused.  What was I supposed to do?!?  She told me my best bet was reporting it stolen as soon as possible.  Yikes.  I called the police again and this time said I needed to report a stolen vehicle.  I started filing the report over the phone, and partway in the dispatcher said, "Oh, looks like I have found your vehicle.  It's been repossessed."  What??  You can imagine my surprise.  I was like, "Ummm, that's not possible.  I am set up on auto-pay for my loan, and those payments are definitely getting drafted each month!"  She said, "Well, you'll need to contact your lender about that."  I was flabbergasted.  I've never even been late on a payment, let alone miss one.  Come to think of it, we pay so much extra on principal each month that they technically consider us pre-paid by a few months.  I also thought to myself, "How the heck would they have known I was at a friend's condo, to come and repossess it there?" Lol.  The irrelevant thoughts I have.  Anyways, back on track, I told the dispatcher, "That really must not be the case.  Are you sure?"  After a couple of seconds she said, "Oops, my mistake.  I read that wrong.  You're right - it was towed.  Here's the name and phone number of where you can pick it up."  Goodness gracious.  More than two hours later, I have finally located my car.  I went from thinking it had been towed, to thinking it was stolen, then thinking it was mistakenly repossessed, and now I finally have affirmation that it was towed at the behest of the apartment complex.

So, where was my car?  It was taken to a storage facility way down south of us, 30 minutes away.  Great.  Now it's close to 8pm and we have to drive down there with Dutch, get our car, and drive back home.  If someone had told me where it was taken while I was still at the complex, at 5:15pm, we could've gotten a ride from there and it would've only been a 10 minute drive.  Grrrr.  After paying all the bogus fees in the amount of $174, we went home with our car.

That night and the next morning, I was still pretty steamed about the situation.  It just doesn't seem right that someone can tow your car without giving you the slightest hint of who towed it or where they took it.  It's common sense that they have to tell you, right?  I knew that I made a mistake by parking there, but I also knew that if this apartment complex and towing company weren't following the rules, they should be punished as well.  How many other people wasted hours of their time and possibly paid extra in storage fees while they worked at tracking down their car?  The paperwork from the storage facility had some fine print on it that said I could request a tow hearing from a justice of the peace if I felt I had been illegally towed.  Hmmm.  Was it illegal for them to tow me?  I needed to do some research.

A woman on a mission is a pretty powerful force, and these guys didn't know what was about to hit them.  Where to begin?  First off, who regulates these towing companies? They have to be licensed and follow some rules, so let's start there.  They fall under the purview of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which allows you to file a complaint against a licensee if you feel they have acted illegally.  I contacted them and found out that even though the apartment complex is the one who put up the inadequate sign, the towing company is responsible for the act of towing, so they have to make sure a person has their contact information.  Boom, that gives me a basis for filing a complaint against them.  Now, to find the legislative backup for my claim.  The Occupations Code is where you can find the actual statutes related to vehicle towing and booting.  I knew I needed to find out what the towing company's authority was for towing my car, based on the signage present, and Title 14, Subtitle A, Chapter 2308, Subchapter G gave me the answer I needed.  Check out (5) (B) and (7).
(b)  Except as provided by Section 2308.305, an unauthorized vehicle may be towed under Section 2308.252(a)(1) or booted under Section 2308.257 only if each sign prohibiting unauthorized vehicles:
(1)  is made of weather-resistant material;
(2)  is at least 18 inches wide and 24 inches tall;
(3)  contains the international symbol for towing vehicles;
(4)  contains a statement describing who may park in the parking facility and prohibiting all others;
(5)  bears the words, as applicable:
(A)  "Unauthorized Vehicles Will Be Towed or Booted at Owner's or Operator's Expense";
(B)  "Unauthorized Vehicles Will Be Towed at Owner's or Operator's Expense"; or
(C)  "Unauthorized Vehicles Will Be Booted at Owner's or Operator's Expense";
(6)  contains a statement of the days and hours of towing and booting enforcement; and
(7)  contains a number, including the area code, of a telephone that is answered 24 hours a day to enable an owner or operator of a vehicle to locate a towed vehicle or to arrange for removal of a boot from a vehicle.
Take another look at the sign I posted above and you tell me where it says specifically, "Unauthorized vehicles will be towed at owner's or operator's expense" and where it contains a number for me to call.  That's right, it doesn't!  Jackpot.  Those suckers are not following the statutes.  I officially opened a complaint with the TDLR, based on this statute, and submitted photographic evidence of the inadequate signs.  I also drove down to the JP and requested a tow hearing, at a cost of $26.  If, per the statutes, they weren't authorized to tow my car, then I deserve to get my money back.

I spent the next couple of days printing out the relevant statutes, printing out my photographic evidence, and preparing my statements for the hearing.  I was ready for this. Guess what happened?  I got a phone call from the towing company.  They had received notice of my formal complaint with the TDLR and my request for a tow hearing. They offered to refund all my out of pocket expenses.  Well, well, well.  Look who got a little nervous when they got called out on their bullshit.  I told them about my storage retrieval charges and my court filing costs.  I had a check in hand by that afternoon.

Truth be told, I was glad to avoid the hearing.  Even though I was fairly positive I would win, it was still going to be a nerve-wracking experience, and take me away from work. Tow truck companies are synonymous with shady practices, but this time they didn't get away with it.

Towing companies: eleventy bajillion
The little guy: 1

This fight doesn't even put a dent in their armor, but it means something to me.  Maybe they'll think twice before they tow from that complex again.  Maybe someone else will read my post and hold a towing company to the fire if they don't act properly.  All I know is that I got my money back and I didn't lay down and play dead.  My advice to you: if you get towed, take a picture of the sign.  They just might not be authorized to tow your car!  

Friday, June 21, 2013

City of Dallas Water

This post will not be interesting at all for most readers, but I thought it might be helpful for Dallas residents who are trying to understand their water bill and/or for those who are trying to save some money.  When we moved to a new house in April, we figured our water bill would increase since we were getting a larger lot and a pool.  In the city of Carrollton, our monthly bill was usually about $60, increasing to $90 when we watered a lot (meaning usage of 10,000 to 15,000 gallons depending on the month).  Our first bill at the Dallas house was $250, showing 20,000 gallons of usage.  Whaaaaaat?  I was shocked.  But, work, home repairs, moving in, and back problems took priority, so I quickly forgot about the high bill.  The next month rolled around and that bill was $290, showing 26,000 gallons of usage.  Okay, something was going on here.  We needed to get to the bottom of it, because we were scared the bills being that high meant we had a leak.

We made sure none of the faucets were on and none of the appliances were using water, and we checked the meter.  It wasn't spinning, so it didn't appear we had a leak to/in the house.  Could it be a leak in the pool?  The water level didn't seem to be dropping at an excessive rate, so that didn't seem like an issue.  We checked with friends who also had pools, and we weren't filling ours up any more than them.  Why was our bill so high?

After more scrutiny of our bill, we discovered that one big culprit was all the extra items the city charges you for.  They make a killing even if you don't use an ounce of water!  Their "base charges" are fixed, based on your meter size, and you will pay them monthly regardless of your usage.  Turns out we have a 2" meter, which means we are on the hook for $50.64 each month, before even considering usage or sanitation or storm water. From the bill, "Base water and sewer charges cover fixed costs such as reading and maintaining the meter, account maintenance, mailing bills and processing payments. Base charge for sewer also includes cleaning the sewer system to minimize blockage."

So, bam, our bill will automatically be nearly $51 higher each month in Dallas than Carrollton because of these base charges.  What else?

Garbage/recycling/sanitation fees are similar between the cities ($20-$22), so nothing out of the ordinary there.  An additional charge that we didn't see on our Carrollton bill, but did in Dallas, is something called "Storm Water Charges."  From the bill, "This fee funds the City’s storm water utility, formed in 1991, to meet requirements of a federal mandate to control storm water pollution. It also pays for other routine maintenance activities that affect storm water quality."  That means nothing to me, except that I have to pay $14 each month for it.  Bleh.  So, now I've accounted for $65 of the increase I saw when moving between cities.  What else?

The city tiers their usage charges, which isn't uncommon, but of course their rates are $1 - $2 higher per one thousand gallons than the city of Carrollton's was. If I had been using 26,000 gallons of water in Carrollton, I would've paid about $90 for it.  In Dallas, that equals $150.  Arrrggh.  So, that's another reason for the increased bill - higher rates. Same for the wastewater rates.  Carrollton was $2.02/thousand gallons for sewer and Dallas is $4.80.  What else?

My sewer usage/charges in Dallas are about 69% of my water charges, versus being 42% in Carrollton.  Why is that?  Well, here's how they come up with your sewer usage, per the bill: "Annually the sewer average usage is calculated from the most recent December--March usage. This typical winter average establishes the maximum sewer usage amount until a new winter average can be calculated."  Without looking at the actual numbers on my bill, and reading that, I would say to myself, "Sweet!  The house was vacant during those months, so surely the average will be low."  Nope.  The city tells me since I'm a new customer, they can't use the previous customer's average from those months, so they have to stick me with the average of ALL customers with a 2" meter until a new average can be calculated for me personally.  That means until next April, when hopefully they can see my average will be lower, I am stuck paying $103.83 a month for sewer.  No way to get around that.

Basically, that means I have fixed costs of base charges, sewer, sanitation, and storm water that I will be paying, regardless of whether I ever turn a faucet on.  What's the monthly total on that? $156.09.  Wow.  Is that not mind-blowing to you, too?  My bill will definitely be over $150 each month, no matter how much water conservation I try to do.

Despite the hopelessness I felt after realizing this, I decided to still investigate why our actual usage increased so drastically from one house to another, even though the number of occupants stayed the same.  I took advantage of one service the city offers, called the Free Irrigation System Check-Up.  Maybe we weren't being efficient with our watering. Maybe there were leaks in our system.  I just wanted the chance to talk to somebody about it, while hopefully learning some helpful info about water usage.  I signed up for a consultation, and someone came out within a week.  He spent 30 minutes analyzing our system, and was able to tell me about any heads/nozzles that were broken, missing, or needing adjustment.  He also pointed out two small leaks (not actually responsible for increased usage, just something to be fixed at some point).  He gave me recommendations on how often we should be watering, and at what time of day.  That was all really cool info, but the most important thing I learned from him was just how much water our sprinkler system uses.  We are currently on a very conservative watering schedule, only about 12-15 minutes a week.  But, since we have such a large lot, that still translates to 11,000 gallons of water a month.  I had no idea!!  That's on par with the entire usage we had in a month in Carrollton, and yet in Dallas, it's only attributable to our sprinklers.  Consider our typical household usage and topping off the pool weekly along with that, and it doesn't seem so unreasonable to have 25,000 gallons a month of usage.  The scary thing is that he recommended watering for more like 30-40 minutes a week.  Ummmm, I don't think we can afford that!!

On a somewhat related note, the city also has another cool program called New Throne for your Home Toilet Replacement Program.  If you've got an older home, chances are you might have a toilet in it that is inefficient.  These days, most toilets do 1.6 gallons per flush.  Before 1992, toilets were doing 3.5 or 5 gallons per flush. If you want to replace a toilet like that, the city will give you one (or two!) for free!  You complete a form, get your voucher, and then go pick up your toilet.  You have to arrange the installation of the new one and removal of the old, but the toilet cost is free!  I didn't know about this when we decided to replace one of our toilets in April, but, lucky for me, they also offer rebates.  All I had to do was fill out a form, attach my receipt for the toilet we purchased, and then I'll get a credit for $90 on my next water bill, representing reimbursement for the cost of the toilet.  Not gonna lie, that's a pretty sweet deal.

In conclusion, there's not much I can do about our high water bills.  I guess I'm relieved we don't have a leak, but I'm still not happy about how high our utilities are at the new house, especially considering we haven't even hit the dead of summer yet.  At least I've taken advantage of a couple of the city's water conservation programs, so that I feel like I'm getting a tiny bit more for my money.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Father to My Son

Dutch is a lucky boy to have the father he does.  Especially in these past few weeks, where I have had to be very limited in my interactions with Dutch because of my back surgery, I'm reminded of just how great a partner I have.  Happy Father's Day to the man who gave me the best gift I ever received.

By - SlideShow Maker

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nothing Has Changed

I wish I could say that my herniated disk/nerve problems have miraculously improved after my surgery three weeks ago, but they haven't.  It's such a bummer.  I went last week for my 2-week post-surgery checkup with pretty much the same pain I had pre-surgery, so the doctor did a back x-ray.  He said the disk spacing looked good, but the persistent nerve pain was worrisome.  We decided to give it two more weeks, just in case the pain was from my spinal nerve still being inflamed from the actual surgery.  I'm taking anti-inflammatories twice a day and trying to limit my lifting.  If, when I go back next week, I'm still experiencing this intense pain, I'll probably have another MRI done.  Maybe I have a new herniated disk, or maybe the previously herniated disk has degenerated further and pieces are protruding into my spinal nerve again.  There is definitely still something very wrong, because I'm in pain pretty much at all times.  Whatever it is, I just wish we could definitively get it taken care of.  I can't believe this is what my life is now.  I used to run, work out, play sports, take walks with Dutch, do home improvement projects, run errands with ease, rock my son to sleep, etc, etc.  Now, I can barely walk from one side of the house to the other without a throbbing pain in my legs.  I have to stop and take breaks often.  There's no chance I could run, let alone walk around the block.  At the grocery store, I suffer through the pain as I walk down the aisles.  I have to lean forward over the cart to relieve some of the pain, or just stop and squat or sit down to handle it.  I try to mask it around other people, but you can be certain that I'm probably hurting if you see me and I'm not sitting down.  I get choked up when people ask me how I'm doing, because all I can think about is what my life was like last year versus this year.  I'm not happy.  I'm in pain all the time.  I can't be myself.  I can't be the mom I want to be.      

Sunday, June 2, 2013

More Updates

Gold fixtures - bleh. I'm just not a fan. My house had soooo many of them when we moved in. Slowly, but surely, I'm changing them out. I've bought a ton of new cabinet and drawer knobs, some door handles, and a couple toilet paper and hand towel holders. The jack and jill bath had gold faucets, light covers, and hand towel holders. Something needed to be done! Changing out two faucets could've been expensive and quite time-consuming. I opted for a cheaper and easier approach. Spray paint! I didn't need it to look awesome; I just needed to cover up the gold.  Here's the before pic of one of the sink areas:

And here's the after:

The light switch cover and the hand towel holder were store bought. I went the cheap route because this is a secondary bathroom, specifically one that Dutch uses.  All of the faucet components were spray-painted, however. I have a feeling I'm going to use this method a lot more in the future, since it saves so much money and prevents potential problems that can come from uninstalling and reinstalling something.

Christmas Came Early

We took a trip to Ikea this weekend, which can be a bad idea when you have a toddler. They have so much cute stuff there!  Luckily it's very affordable.  Dutch got a little Christmas in June because of it.  Our original intent was to buy him a table and chairs, but that led to an easel, a lounge chair, and some kitchen toys.  What a spoiled little munchkin!

There were blue chairs to match the table, but I like to mix it up a little bit.

chalkboard on this side, dry erase board on the other

now he can relax outside with us, in a mini-me chair

His playroom is really starting to come together.  I just need to add some paint and some decorations to the walls.  Dutch also had a great time in the pool this weekend (well, out of the pool as well).  

With his friend Hudson and cousin Lexie

Unsure at first, but soon loved it

Gonna be a water baby after all