The story behind the $800 Capitol Hill tow

In an area where street parking is pushed to its limits, anybody living or working on the Hill has gambled — and sometimes lost. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat told the story this week of Capitol Hill resident Chris Swanicke who was charged a whopping $800 when his truck was towed for being parked in an unauthorized spot in his 13th Ave E apartment building’s parking lot. Below, more on Westneat’s column, the complaint Swanicke sent to the state about the cost and the response from City Hall regarding “predatory towing practices.”

Here’s the complaint from Swanicke:

I rent an apartment managed by XXX at XXX 13th Ave E, Seattle. On Nov 18th, my car, a 1994 Mazda B4000, was towed by City Wide Towing from here to a lot near 145th Ave and Aurora Ave Northeast.

On the night of Nov 18th at about 10pm, I parked in front of the building, in two spaces owned by the building. At about 11:30pm, I went outside to move my car, the car was gone and had been towed.

From the space where I parked, there was no visible tow-away sign (it is blocked by a tree), but after I eventually found it and called the towing company–City Wide Towing. City Wide said they could not confirm they had my car that night and to call back at a later time. They said tows can cost anywhere from $500-$700.

The next morning, Nov 19th, I called City Wide and they did indeed have my car. I was quoted a charge of $689 at about 6am, but was told I could not pick it up from their lot until 11am.

At around noon on Nov 19th I called City Wide to see if my car was available for pickup. Another gentlemen on the phone quoted me a rate of $729.00 plus tax–total of $798.00. I asked what the discrepancy was, he said there was none and broke down the charges as $500.00 for a 2-hour tow, $150.00 for a weekend pickup, and $79 for a one-day holding fee.

I went to City Wide’s lot in north Seattle to pick up my car. I was given a form to sign, and then an invoice. The gentlemen behind the counter handed me the invoice to sign without any of the totals written in. I asked him to write down the amount of the charges before I would sign the invoice. He did, I signed and paid $798.00 with a credit card.

Westneat found that the exorbitant fee is legal — and could have been worse:

The state Department of Licensing sent me Citywide Towing’s fee chart. It showed Swanicke got off easy, amazingly enough. Citywide charged him $250 an hour, for two hours of work, plus $298.25 in weekend retrieval fees, storage charges and taxes (his final, total bill was $798.25.) The rate sheet shows Citywide could have charged a whopping $600 an hour.

On Wednesday, mayor Mike McGinn’s office sent out a statement about the situation:

Exorbitant towing fees as described in Danny Westneat’s Seattle Times column this morning about the young man charged $800 by Citywide Towing may be legal, but they shouldn’t be. 

We are looking at what steps we can take to protect Seattleites from predatory towing practices and charges. I’ve asked my staff and the Law Department to look into this further to see if there is any action the City can take to regulate or curb these rates. We’re also reviewing the City’s own policies/contracts with towing companies that tow vehicles on City property and City streets.

Having had some interesting encounters with tow truck operators over the years, CHS says yay. May we never have to negotiate a $250 cash deal with a driver to not tow the CHS news-mobile again.

55 thoughts on “The story behind the $800 Capitol Hill tow

  1. given the City can regulate a taxi, they can certainly put a cap on the fees tow companies are allowed to charge in the city.

    If this fellow was indeed parked IN a parking space owned by his building, he might try to go after whoever called the tow company. The story on the newspaper’s site seemed to indicate he was parked ON the street in a no parking zone. That’s a different matter entirely.

  2. It’s good to see the politicians dont’ support the rape of citizens. I hope that the word gets around to the private property owners who utilize their services and that those who hang Citywides signs on their property do not suffer property damages from being associated with company without a conscience.

    Outrageous and unacceptable!

  3. Someone needs to call King 5 news and Get Jesse! This is ridiculous this guy was forced to pay probably a months rent or close to it to get his car towed from his own residence. His building managment should feel like the ass holes they are…I’d move!

  4. “It’s good to see the politicians dont’ support the rape of citizens.” Only on the important things like subversion of media, war and profiteering on black market sales. Good ole’ Uncle Sam.

  5. there’s no doubt this is a lot of money, but maybe this guy should not have parked in an illegal spot? I dunno about anyone else, but I have come home to my assigned, paid for parking spot late at night, when all street parking was taken, only to find someone else parked in it…you better believe I had them towed!

  6. $800 and could’ve been more.. Talk about tge grinch who stole the guys Christmas even if he was in the wrong 2 wrongs never make it right.. Maybe we can get occupotty off the potty and camp out at citywide where it sounds like someones trying to become part of the 1% overnight… Hope Mayor Mike offers this guy an apology Luke he does everyone else for allowing this company to have predatory pricing in the city… After all he didn’t care about the little guys as long as citywide paid there taxes to the city…

  7. “May we never have to negotiate a $250 cash deal with a driver to not tow the CHS news-mobile again.”

    If you find yourself in a situation where the tow truck driver starts to claim “well you’re already hooked up so you’ll have to pay me now” immediately get inside your car.

    They can’t (law/liability insurance) tow a car with someone in it and then you can negotiate all day long while they miss call after call for other tows. I might give them something for their troubles assuming I was in the wrong, but $250 for, at most, driving across town is insane.

  8. I’m also a resident of Capitol Hill and recently was with a friend who had a similar situation. We parked (I told him not to btw) in a vacant church parking lot (just south of Madison and say 14th). I’m not disputing the right to tow…but essentially this lot was totally vacant with exception to another vehicle and some random guy mucking about it. We were away for maybe 60 minutes and cam back to find it towed and with a cable drawn across the lot (that wasn’t there when we entered). My suspicion is that the individual in the lot was waiting for the next victim. Its also my suspiciion that in areas like Capitol Hill that these tow companies are probably employing individuals to scout for popular illegal parking. I realize individuals need the right to protect their parking spots, their drives etc…but question the need for a church (or closed business) to so aggressively penalize individuals for literally a one or two use of an empty space. But I won’t even argue this point much. But what does make me (and should make every compassionate citizen angry) is the idea that a towing company can make so much money by taking someone elses property and holding it hostage for such an exuberant amount of money. I don’t even own a car and this makes me furious. The idea of paying $800 for what is a minimal amount of effort on their part, is like robbery. Cars for many people are a requirement. Who makes $800 for a two hour worth of work? (and we know it didn’t take two hours right?). The only reason they get away with this is because 1. they hold hostage this critical piece of your property 2. the city lets them. and 3. these businesses – which I’ll point out exist here in our community because of the people that live and patronage them allow this! Its one thing to employ a service to keep your lot free, clean , clear…but you can do that without charging someone $800 for two hours of work. We should be furious at the city and these businesses. How exactly is this any different than Bank of America charging a bunch of fees to generate substantial profits. Its not. Who owns these tow companies in our community? Why aren’t we talking to the owners of the property where these things happen? Why aren’t the residents of the property all getting together and saying you know what…we understand you’ll need to tow and need to keep that space for its purpose…but we don’t think $800 is appropriate. (I know that you can hire someone to fulfill this need for much less…and still achieve the appropriate desired affect. And why have our politicians allowed such an extremely uneven and unfair practice??? The city doesn’t tow your car from the curb when your parking has expired…you get a ticket. And I see a lot of spots around the city that are zoned and remain empty so the process MUST SORT OF WORK, right? I’m not advocating against towing…but I’m absolutely saying its unacceptable to take someones property and hold it hostage for such a ridiculous amount of money. This is well beyond the amount necessary to create an incentive for illegal parkers, to cover the cost of providing the service and still create a sizable return on investment. (if they say otherwise, they can prove it to us).

    Coincidentally my friend was charged approximately $360. How can one person be charged one amount and somone else be charged something radically different. (I know they’ll have a way to qualify this in a legal context…we know they will). But aren’t we the masters of this “community”?? Aren’t these parking lots, these business, these tow companies here because WE built and support this community here. Their existance is built on our shoulders…NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

    What can we do? I really appreciate you elevating this and bringing it to our attention…But can’t you create some call to action? Am I the only one that thinks this really is UNFAIR and UNJUST? (remember I don’t even own a car!) But I don’t want to sit back and just let other people be vicitmized.

  9. What nobody’s touched on here— does the building where the sign is placed get a kickback? That would totally incent the tow agency to maximize the towing fee, to promise a bigger kickback to the building. Are kickbacks from tow companies to property owners or management companies legal?

  10. So by doing something completely in the wrong, this fellow is able to whine on every media outlet? The theory really is simple — Do not park and block private spaces, where it states NO parking. Every time I have someone towed, I know that it will cost them 450 bucks, and I do it with pleasure. Having had my drive blocked several times, and not being able to access in or out, I am then victim to the no parking situation. I think whatever they want to charge for this infraction is fair game.

  11. Talk about a mountain out of a molehill. How about you dont park where you’re not supposed to? Private property is private property, stay off it if you’re not authorized and you will never, I repeat, never, have to pay to get your car out of impound for parking on someone’s property.

    I’m all for limiting the price of municipal tows on public property, but the line stops when I own the land.

    Personal responsibility, it’s a good thing. Learn it and it will serve you well.

  12. in the article, poor chris states that he knew he was in a tow-away area:

    “”I parked where I shouldn’t have, for an hour, until I could move it onto the street,” he says. “They had every right to tow me. But I never expected this.”"

    he goes on to state:

    “”I was expecting it to be $200 or something,” Swanicke says.”

    clearly a $200 tow was not a deterrent to him as he was willing to pay that much to park where he wasn’t allowed. maybe if the great citizens of seattle, chris included, think they could possibly get charged up to $1,000 they won’t park in spaces they aren’t supposed to.

    i have no pity for this guy.

  13. @jims.

    yes, but clearly a “punishment” of $200 would not have gotten him to change his behavior as he thought that’s how much a tow would be. maybe an $800-$1,000 punishment will make people think twice about parking where they’re not supposed to.

  14. $250 an hour actually makes sense. When you take into account the salary of driver, admin people, property (lot) costs, vehicle costs, and the down time when there is no towing to do, it could easily hit 250 an hour for when they are actually working.

  15. “On the night of Nov 18th at about 10pm, I parked in front of the building, in two spaces owned by the building. At about 11:30pm, I went outside to move my car, the car was gone and had been towed.”

    BAM end of story. You got what you deserved.

    As a resident of capitol hill and someone who owns a parking spot that assholes like you regularly park in despite it clearly being marked ‘resident only’ you deserve every penny of the towing fee. Next time maybe you will remember that the laws DO apply to you, despite what you might think.

  16. @ D – The rape of citizens? To everyone who has suffered an actual rape it is your comment that is outrageous and unacceptable.

    And veiled threats of property damage to property owners who use Citywide? Grow up. Who do you think will ultimately pay for those damages in the form of higher rents?

    It’s really simple – if you don’t want to pay $800 in tow fees, don’t park where you clearly are not allowed.

  17. I’ve never understood the legal or moral logic of being able to tow someone’s vehicle (which is also private property) off of private property and hold it hostage at extortion-level rates. This is the only case I can think of where a petty crime can be legally answered by what in any other scenario would be a much, much more serious crime (i.e., grand theft, auto.) (Possible exception: states where you can legally shoot someone for merely breaking in your home, without having to establish that you are in imminent danger.)

    If I steal your TV, you’re not allowed to steal my wife’s wedding ring in return.

    The going monthly rate for a reserved spot on the Hill is about $150. Hell, let’s double that to $300 just to make the math easier, so roughly $10/day. Less than a dollar an hour.

    Even if you use hourly rates, which are of course higher, if you park in someone’s space you are depriving them of their property to the tune of about $5/hour at most. That’s still theft, but it’s a long way from grand larceny.

    Cover the cost of towing plus a reasonable profit margin, fine. Beyond that, it’s punishing a small theft with a comparatively huge theft.

  18. How many knew that towing fees could reach $800 before this article? I certainly did not. How is this guy supposed to know?

    The problem with the fees, which I believe are unreasonable, is that they are unknown these “scofflaws.” The “no parking” signs should state the costs or a range of costs that could be incurred.

    The non-disclosure of the exorbitant fees are the real issue.

  19. “If I steal your TV, you’re not allowed to steal my wife’s wedding ring in return.”

    no, but if you put your tv in my house, when i’m not there, and without my permission, then i should have the right to financially penalize you (at minimum) for your actions when you come back to try and retrieve it.

    “…if you park in someone’s space you are depriving them of their property to the tune of about $5/hour at most.”

    it’s not about how much YOU think that spot should go for per hour; it’s property that belongs to someone else. i’m not in my home 9 hours out of the day from monday through friday, do you think that gives you the right to come in, sit on my couch and watch my tv without my permission?

    by your logic, instead of you being arrested for trespassing, you should only be fined for the time you were in my place based on daily hotel rates. so trespassing would be a fine of $250 max. your argument makes no sense.

  20. @jims.

    “Hell, why not death then? Since clearly there is no provision for the severity of the infraction fitting the fine, right? Just kill him.”

    really? there’s no MONETARY provision for the severity of the fine. harming someone’s well being and/or life IS illegal. charging $800, $1000 or even $5000 is not.

  21. That could very well be the case. These tow companies make sweetheart deals with building managers all over. That’s why a particular company’s sign is in somebody’s parking lot. Generally there is a kick back. Several years there was a series of stories about how building managers sign the contracts with tow companies and then have cars towed whether it’s a legal tow or not and making some money. It’s entirely possible that could be part of what’s going on here too.

  22. Yeah, this guy deserves it. Perhaps the building should have maintained their sign so it was visible, but I used to pay for a parking space and I wouldn’t hesitate to tow jerks who stole my space, and I would really relish towing a jerk who takes up two spaces he didn’t pay for. Seriously, dude, you’re lucky someone didn’t smash your windows, too.

  23. it’s not about how much YOU think that spot should go for per hour;

    Agreed! Nor do YOU get to decide how much your space is worth to you. That’s what markets are for, and they do it rather well.

    I haven’t argued that someone has a right to use your parking spot when you aren’t (in fact, I believe I specifically referred to it as “theft”). I’m simply arguing that there is often (and especially in this case) a complete loss of proportionality in how illegally parked cars are dealt with.

    I also think a $250 fine for simple trespassing is pretty reasonable.

  24. The city is bankrupt. It does everything in its power to nickle and dime Seattleites to pay for its own stupid decisions. I was given a ticket for parking in front of my own house after my basement flooded because a Seattle City tree destroyed my sewage pipe outside my house. I had to move the car so the cleaning crew could get their equipment into my basement. It cost almost $20,000 to fix the plumbing disaster. I took the ticket to a Seattle judge and explained why I had to park on the street instead of my driveway and she “kindly” cut the cost of the ticket in half, rather than throwing it in the trash. How very “kind hearted” of her.

    Make no mistake. Seattle City is like any bankrupt business doing everything in its power to keep itself alive, even if that means fucking over its customers in the most petty ways possible. Oh, and unlike a normal business, Seattle City has an armed police force which can extract its due if you don’t obey.

  25. I can only speak for the apartment building I manage, but no, we don’t get a kickback from the towing company (we do not use Citywide). But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the larger property management companies had such a deal in place.

    If you want to see predatory towing, go watch E John St between 11th Ave and 14th Ave shortly after 7am when parking on the north side of the street becomes illegal. Often a tow truck or two will park itself near a car and wait until the parking enforcement person comes by and tickets the car, at which point they hook the vehicle up and go on their merry way.

  26. I’m surprised he couldn’t find a simple illegal city spot to park in. Why risk the tow at all? I’ve only ever been desperate enough to park illegally on purpose once and no way I considered taking a private space. I ended up parking really close to a stop sign. Sure I had a $45 ticket the next day but that’s better than $800 or the hassle that comes with any tow regardless of cost. Hell, a hydrant would have been a better option…how much are those tickets? And please, the old “behind a tree” excuse???

  27. How is that predatory towing? It’s a no parking zone after 7am to clear the lane for traffic going downtown. Again, where has personal responsibility gone in our society? Should we call the owners of the cars to wake them up in time to move?

  28. Mayor McCheese needs more of your hard earned money to make this city even more unpleasant to live in for those who own their own car. This is not surprising.

  29. Completely agree. This guy deserved it.

    Though I do agree, $800 is quite a lot, and I wouldn’t be against a reasonable-yet-still-painful limit imposed on tow fees as well as some rules..

    I was parked once in a condo construction spot with a temporary sign that said “Visitor Parking – Construction only 9am-6pm” while visiting a friend. I parked there well after 6pm, and around midnight I came down to find the sign gone, a tow truck blocking the exit to the garage, the tow driver trying to slim-jim my door open, and the new owner of the parking spot explaining that he just moved in and took the signs down.

    Fucking great, my car wasn’t even on the hook and the tow driver insisted he would not move his truck and let me leave until I paid him $250. I was livid. What the hell was I going to do, though? I can’t entirely fault the spot’s owner, but pulling down the signs while I was parked there and calling a truck was a dick move.

    I now own a spot that’s just off the street, and I’m well aware of how frustrating it is to get blocked in or blocked out of my spot, and I’ve had cars towed on a number of occasions. My spot is _very_ clearly marked though (two visible tow signs and a “Assigned parking only – violators will be towed” sign”). I still feel a little guilty about having people towed though. Especially if it’s going to cost them $800…

    Anyways, whatever the point of that was…

  30. And again, I know how high the fees are, because I have to tow people (with sadistic glee) that think they can get away with it, or are above the law by parking on my private property that I have paid for.

  31. Logic is your friend.

    If you don’t want people to “risk it” or park where they shouldn’t, then the high fees AFTER the fact are only going to deter the unlucky few that get caught. If the info was disseminated when the person was thinking about where to park, then they might actually change their behavior and not park in your spot or on your private property. Then you don’t have to waste your time calling tow trucks and being pissed. The only people benefiting by not disclosing the fees are the tow companies, not property owners or parking spaces renters.

  32. “Nor do YOU get to decide how much your space is worth to you.”

    actually, i DO get to decide how much a space i own is worth to me. it’s called my personal opinion. my personal valuation of my property. and if i feel a parking spot is worth $800 a night and i call a tow truck to remove someone parked illegally on my property; i won’t feel the slightest remorse.

    but that’s beside the point. I wasn’t trying to decide the value of a space; you were:

    “…if you park in someone’s space you are depriving them of their property to the tune of about $5/hour at most.”

    again, you don’t get to say what value someone is depriving another of. only the owner of the property can say what that time meant to them.

    and to your point of, “That’s what markets are for, and they do it rather well.”

    exactly. and the market in seattle currently says that tow truck services can get away with charging around $250 and sometimes up to $800+ on occasion.

  33. @benjammin509

    yes, you are missing the point of the deterrence. the deterrence, for most people who aren’t self-centered asses and have common courtesy for their fellow human beings and their property, is that they will be towed and/or fined – period. doesn’t matter how much the fine is. just that there will be a fine and a loss of use of one’s personal property is enough. the majority of society understands this deterrent and decides to play by the rules.

    “If the info was disseminated when the person was thinking about where to park, then they might actually change their behavior and not park in your spot or on your private property.”

    no they wouldn’t. some people just don’t give a shit. they think the world revolves around them and they’ll do what they please. only when they get caught do they bitch and complain (re: chris swanicke from the above posting).

    let’s look at robbery, rape and murder. the deterrents for those crimes (incarceration) are well known; yet people continue to commit them. if you think non-disclosure of penalties is the problem then you’re just being naive.

  34. I have had this same exact thing happen to me, even down to the escalating quotes. My car was towed to PUYALLUP by Gene’s towing and cost me $700 (was quoted $650 when I called, then I arrived at the tow yard to find it was now over $700). Best of all, they wouldn’t release my car to me because they incorrectly ran my plates (I live in BC), and the registration came up as someone else. They refused to double check and I ended up calling the police to rectify the situation. It took from 6am, when I found my car to be missing, to 3pm the same day to get everything sorted out. Predatory, uncooperative, and just plain evil. The location where I parked had NO signs, and I had parked there on previous visits with no problems. Apparently signs were put up over the 4 days I was parked there.

    If I had not been able to rely on a local Cap Hill friend to help me sort out the situation, I would have been screwed. Foreign bank withdrawal daily limits, no mode of transport, etc.

  35. Don’t try that if you’re being towed from a city street – it’s a crime to interfere with a police-ordered tow in Washington. As for private tows, it’s still pretty risky. The truck operator will find a way to make you suffer.

  36. @Z

    I agree and disagree.

    I agree that for most people, including myself, that a marked “no parking” sign is enough of a deterrence.

    I disagree with your “no they wouldn’t” response to the disclosure idea. According to our “victim’s” story, he would have not parked where he did if he knew how bad the consequences would be. Of course we can never know if this is true.

    I strongly disagree with your comparison to “robbery, rape and murder.” We are talking about a parking violation. Sure, those violations are inconvenient and the violator may be an asshole, but they aren’t crimes of the magnitude that you compare them to. And they certainly aren’t violent. These people, who are most likely not habitual criminals, may actually respond to the threat of the high fine and not park there. That solves your problem before it begins.

    Of course, no deterrent works completely. Your statement that robbery, rape and murder continue despite well known punishments is pointless unless you can somehow back that up with stats. I mean, I agree that they continue, but how can we measure the effect that any “deterrence disclosure” has had? It certainly can’t be negative – meaning more murders are occurring because of the disclosure.

    Lastly, I don’t see how a disclosure of the fee could hurt you, unless you are the tow operator. Look through my posts, I never said they shouldn’t be able to charge the fees. I only said that I thought they were unreasonable. I think posting the fee gives people an extra incentive not to park there, and then if they still do, well they had notice.

    Double lastly, for the record, I don’t park like an asshole.

  37. This makes no sense. I own a parking space that I pay for so that I know I will have a space to park in. I am paying for the certainty, not just for the space. Not being able to get into and out of my space when I need to affects my ability to do my job, so it costs me more than just the space rental when jerks rob me of this with their selfishness.

  38. No joke. I was in jail for a couple months way on back in the good ole days and low and behold I happened to land myself in the federal court holding facility. You see here now, the folks in charge of guarding the federal penitentiaries don’t like no in and out, in and out shufflings about through their gates. To make life easier for them, whenever federal inmates may be within a year of a court date, the feds just house them in a jail local to whatever court the trial may take place in.

    I met a guy who was doing 7 years (6 years already served) for identity theft. He readily admitted he had 4 or 5 cell phones with the name of the person who he was supposed to be taped on each one. He profited around $5million and gave $100,000 to his brother to start a tow company. His brother did. Bought a state of the art tow truck that allowed the driver to tow a car without ever getting out of the truck. He went on to say admit that when business was slow his brother would just **TOW** random cars that were out of parked late at night out of common sight. He towed them straight to the chop shops around Atlanta. On top of that, he estimated that he kept $1million that the paper trail hadn’t lead to him yet and his lawyer negotiated a deal that any subsequent crimes he committed on his spree (if he plead guilty) would not be prosecuted nor able to be sued for civilly.

    He had stories from car theft to insurance fraud to price gauging desperate victims by holding their property hostage.

  39. @benjammin509

    i’m not saying disclosure of a fee would hurt. what i am saying is that disclosure is not going to end some people from parking illegally. and…

    “Your statement that robbery, rape and murder continue despite well known punishments is pointless unless you can somehow back that up with stats. I mean, I agree that they continue, but how can we measure the effect that any “deterrence disclosure” has had?”

    i don’t need stats. the fact that after thousands of years and many levels of punishment, from incarceration to death, punishments that anyone living in an open society know exist, these crimes still happen. i’m not arguing the effect deterrence disclosure has on REDUCING illegal behavior. my argument is about the effect disclosure has on STOPPING illegal behavior COMPLETELY. per your comment:

    “…then they might actually change their behavior and not park in your spot or on your private property.”

    my point is that deterrence disclosure is not going to stop ALL illegal parking. EVERYONE’S behavior is not going to change simply because a list of fines is posted. it might curb some of what occurs but it won’t STOP people from their illegal behavior. that’s why we have repeat offender statutes for those more serious crimes i list above. and even then, those don’t work on everyone. as i stated before, “some people just don’t give a shit.”

  40. I find it hilarious, and at the same time irrelevant, that Chris says the “tow-away” sign was hidden by shrubbery, as if that excuses what he did. He admits that he knew he was not allowed to park in that private space.

    I agree that $800 is totally exorbitant, and hopefully this incident will get the City Council to pass a reasonable cap on fees. At the same time, they should prohibit “kickbacks,” if indeed these are occurring.

  41. A few years ago I accidentally parked in a spot that turns into a rush-hour traffic lane in Vancouver, BC. I was towed and thought my day trip was completely ruined. 20 minutes and $40 later I had my car back. The bus driver even let me on for free because I had no change.

    Nice people up there.

  42. and the market in seattle currently says that tow truck services can get away with charging around $250 and sometimes up to $800+ on occasion.

    You’re joking, right? You think the market sets prices for ransom?

    “Sorry, sir, I’m not paying you $800 to steal my car when the guy down the street will do it for $300!”

    For the last time, I’m not arguing that people who pay for their spaces don’t have a right to them, or to have illegally parked cars removed. (I pay good money for a reserved space, too!) I’m arguing that tow companies shouldn’t be allowed to engage in what in any other context would be criminal extortion…in no small part because we are talking about parking violations, not “robbery, rape, and murder.”

  43. I came home really late one night and was very tired. I parked in a parallel space pretty far from where I live (area I’m not too familiar with) and went to bed. Next morning my car was gone, but I realized I parked in front of a fire hydrant. Completely my fault that it was too dark to see (no street lights) and that I wasn’t paying attention.

    I called the city, they told me which company towed me, called them, they told me where my car was and how much it would cost. I had to call a cab, have them drive me to a bank to get cash out (which is the only form of payment they said they would accept) and take me to the lot. $30

    When I got there, I had to argue with them for a while because I had just moved to Seattle and had gotten a new driver’s license but had not re-plated my car in Washington yet – hence the address on the registration was different than my ID. I forget how I finally convinced them I was the owner, but they had to call someone to verify (perhaps the credit union on the loan???).

    The tow company charged me around $500, plus I lost a 1/2 day of work. I was pretty surprised by how much money they charged and was glad I had the cash to pay it. I thought about all the people that live from paycheck to paycheck and what they would have done, knowing that every hour their car sat there it was less likely they could pay to get it out.

    Needless to say, I have NEVER parked in a no-parking zone again! I’m super paranoid around curves, hydrants and any other markings or signs that could ban parking. Lesson learned.

  44. Does the tow company look like a bad actor in this story? Sure. The rates they charged seem disproportionate to the work they did, and in the partial narrative of a car owner and a tow company, it seems unjust. That said, that narrative doesn’t account for the two people whose parking spots were blocked. In this example, it might be the case that none of the people who paid for the right to use the spots were actually inconvenienced. It might also be the case that they were. Nevertheless, as the comments in this post make clear, many people on Capitol Hill who pay for parking spots are often denied use of their spots when people do what the driver did in this case.

    Does that make it right that the tow company should profit disproportionately? Maybe not if there were a perfect system that could compensate the spot owner perfectly for the inconvenience, plus all the hard-to-quantify consequential damages (i.e., being late for work, missing an appointment, having to pay for parking elsewhere, etc.). But that’s not the system we have, and putting the burden on the parking spot owner to go to court every time somebody interferes with their use simply isn’t workable.

    In the scenario described in the story, if we believe people should be entitled to use of the parking spots they own or pay for the use of, I’m not sure we get a much better result with stricter regulation and lower tow rates. As the driver in the story says, he knew he was taking someone else’s spaces, and in lieu of paying $10 or so to park in a pay lot, he was willing to risk $200 or so in tow fees. If the tow rates were regulated and set to be “reasonable” in view only of the amount of “work” that a tow driver does, the driver in the story likely still would have taken up other peoples’ parking spots. Now that he (and others) realize that doing so could lead to a much higher tow fee, there is a much more powerful disincentive to taking another person’s parking spot, and correspondingly, people who own or pay for the use of a parking spot are much more likely to see those rights respected.

    Assuming that higher tow fees bring a greater deterrent to taking another person’s parking spot, the question seems to be whether we are willing to tolerate a penalty/disproportionate-to-work-performed tow fee (which, admittedly, allows tow companies to profit at the expense of the would-be free rider) in exchange for a system where the spots people own or pay are more likely to be available to those who pay for them.

  45. Wait a second. This guy was prepared to pay what he thought might be $200 dollar fine. Clearly $200 is not a deterrant for stealing another resident’s parking space. He knew he was illegally parked. This is a douchebag who parks across two spaces which aren’t his. TWO SPACES. He got what he deserved. I’m surprised he didn’t find a nice scratchy key mark down the quarter panel. When I lived in a building that shared a lot with a commercial space, I would sometimes catch people trying to park in my clearly marked residential space as if they were entitled to just run into Starbucks “for just a second” while I drove around the block.

    Frankly I’m glad he’s getting this publicity. Maybe it will serve as a warning to his fellow douchebags.

  46. A towing company in Bellevue called ( starbuck’s towing) charged me $582.27 for towing my broken car from I9o to their lot ( not more then 3 miles)
    thay charged me $88.5o just for waking from one room to another. thay said we will send some one to open the offic which is closed. but thay owned the U haul company next door.which was open , and the man just waiked to next room.