Battling predatory towing

Seven On Your Side
August 18, 2008 5:49:47 PM PDT
Finding a parking space can be tough, in part because some shopping centers only let people park in their lots if they are customers there. A New Jersey woman and her mother went shopping, and they were shocked to find their car towed.

Elizabeth Craig couldn't figure out what happened to her car. She parked in a shopping center lot, and when she came back, the car was gone. And when she objected to the towing and got nowhere, she called for Seven On Her Side.

"To me, it's like vultures waiting for somebody to park their car, and then taking it," Craig said.

She says her mother went into the Goodwill store while she went across the street to a flea market. And when she returned?

"The car was gone," she said. "So, you know, I was like, did somebody steal the car?"

Actually, it had been towed by Atlantic Towing. She paid $200 to get it back.

"I would really like to see the way that they do business changed," she said.

The signs say "parking lot for customers only." But Elizabeth says her mom was a customer. And they have proof - a receipt from Goodwill - time stamped at 11:58 a.m. That is just 13 minutes after her car was towed.

Seven On Your Side's Tappy Phillips: "You could prove that somebody in your car had made a purchase at the same time, was in a legitimate store?"
Craig: "Right."
Tappy: "Didn't matter?"
Craig: "Didn't matter."

Bergenfield police say they have gotten a lot of complaints about towing in the lot, but they can't do anything because it is private property.

So we went to the owner of the strip mall that hired Atlantic Towing. They referred us to the tower, who says Elizabeth and her mom both went to the flea market and then went to Goodwill only after they found the car was towed. That is something Craig says is ridiculous.

"I heard from a lot of people out there who had been abused by the towing industry," New Jersey State Senator Robert Gordon said.

In October, that will change. Gordon's new legislation would require signs warning shoppers to be three times bigger than they currently are, and they must be posted at every lot entrance.

"What the state can then do is pull the license, which is required under this law, and the registration, and these people can be put out of busness," Gordon said.

The new law would not only require licenses, it would also set the fees towers can charge. At the lot where Elizabeth was towed, we counted six signs, but none of them were visible if you park in front of Goodwill. But since the law doesn't take effect for a few months, Elizabeth's only recourse is small claims court.

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STORY BY: Eyewitness News reporter Tappy Phillips

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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