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.