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!  


Unknown said...

Good for you! I can't imagine not knowing where your car is! That would be so nerve-wracking. I'm glad you got your money back too. Jerks.

The Uptown Locators said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.