Some residents concerned by late-night towingBy Elizabeth Elkin | 04/20/2015 11:14pm
Illegal towing may be a rising issue in Tuscaloosa. CW | Layton Dudley
Will Ledbetter, a junior, said he came out of a friend’s apartment at The Avenue one night recently at around 1 or 2 a.m. to find his and his friend’s cars gone.
“We saw a tow truck and figured it probably towed my car,” he said.
The tow truck was from Action Automotive and Towing, a tow company from Northport. Ledbetter and his friend, Jocelyn Newman, a junior majoring in chemistry and Spanish, followed the tow truck to Northport. Ledbetter said when they pulled up to a stop light next to the truck, the passenger jumped out of the car.
“He came out and started cussing me out,” Ledbetter said. “I was scared, honestly. He was enticing me to get out of the vehicle.”
Ledbetter said when he asked to see paperwork for the tow, the man refused to show him.
“He very rudely asked me for $160 and threatened to call the cops if I didn’t either pay or leave,” he said.
Newman said the tow made her feel unsafe.
“It’s not safe to have my car towed away in the middle of the night,” she said. “What if I didn’t have my phone?”
Ledbetter said the visitor parking is marked only on the asphalt of the parking spots. He said there are no signs to indicate these spots are for visitors.
“At The Avenue, there’s only 50 to 75 visitor parking spots and they’re all at the perimeter, far away from the apartments,” he said. “There are no signs marking them. The only way you know is if you’re told. Right when you drive in there’s one sign that says you will be towed. There’s no sign once you get in the lot. They only go out there and tow between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.”
The two contacted Ruth Ann Hall, a legal studies professor at the University.
“It looks like Action Automotive has full range over The Avenue apartments,” Hall said. “They show up whenever they want and look for illegally parked cars. It’s like they’re just predators. The fact that they do it at such late hours of the morning, it just seems wrong.”
Hall expressed concern for the students’ safety, Newman’s in particular.
“By towing at 2:30 in the morning, it put her in a dangerous position,” Hall said. “She was a female alone at night wandering and looking for her car. According to the City Ordinances, you have to balance the needs of the people who live in the apartments and of the visitors, and they’re not doing that.”
Hall said she couldn’t see how towing at such a late hour benefit the residents.
“If they’re saying they were trying to protect those living in the apartments, I could see that, but they’re not,” she said. “There were plenty of places to park and nobody was complaining.”
Ledbetter said there were several spots available surrounding his car when his car was towed.
The $160 cost of retrieving a towed car from Action Automotive and Towing is the highest fee allowed by the Tuscaloosa City Ordinances for motor vehicles weighing less than 26,000 pounds.
“It’s not very professional, and it puts students in danger by them not knowing where their car is,” Hall said.
According to the city ordinances, signs must be posted within five feet of the public right-of-way line at the entrance and at 50-foot intervals in the parking lot. Ledbetter said this is not the case at The Avenue.
Marcus Dallas, property manager at The Avenue, said there are enough signs at the apartments.
“In addition to the signage, each resident is notified about the parking policies when they move in via a parking addendum they sign and periodically throughout the year via email and notices,” he said.
Dallas said his experience working with Action Automotive and Towing has been positive, and also said the apartment complex does not call Action Automotive and Towing to tow cars.
“The tow truck just shows up and it’s not supposed to,” Hall said. “This could really evolve into a dangerous situation.”
Robert Hunter, tow operator for Action Automotive and Towing, and George Birmingham, service manager, said they comply with all city ordinances.
“Nobody has a leg, and I mean nobody has a leg, to stand on that I have done anything wrong,” Hunter said. “He didn’t have a decal and he was in decal parking.”
Hunter said they have received death threats and have had guns pulled on them while doing their jobs, all while carrying out the wishes of property managers.
“Our process is simple,” he said. “We’re asked by property owners to remove vehicles that are illegally parked. In doing so, we comply with everything in the city ordinances. We take pictures. Because they’re illegally parked, you don’t need their consent. The fee is set at $160 by the city of Tuscaloosa. After 24 hours, we can charge $10 a day storage.”
Birmingham said in the case of The Avenue, they only tow vehicles left overnight and in non-visitor parking.
“If you lived at The Avenue and paid $800 a month for your nice place to live and you had to carry your groceries through the rain 100 yards because there was nowhere to park due to people that don’t live there parking and enjoying the pool and the amenities, you would become frustrated, too,” he said. “There’s visitor parking for those people that want to visit with their friends or family there. We’re not there towing at 1 or 2 in the afternoon or rush hour. The signs are posted on the property that if you’re not in visitor parking and you don’t have a decal, then your car will be removed.”