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Colorado homeowners allege predatory towing for expired plates during pandemic

Governor's office investigating
tow truck
Posted at 5:04 PM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-13 10:26:08-05

DENVER — Condo owners who parked their cars outside their homes in their assigned spots still found their vehicles booted or towed as part of a disturbing trend at condo complexes and apartments across the Denver metro area.

People are paying hundreds of dollars to get back their cars, even though the state is asking for leniency for expired registration.

"It hurts me that people think that it's OK," said Niki Cousins, who parked her new car legally in her numbered spot in Denver.

"On Dec. 28, we got a notice on the car saying, 'This is your warning, 72 hours, you'll either be towed or booted,'" Cousins said.

Like many complexes lately, a towing company contracts with her condo complex to tow abandoned cars with expired registration.

Cousins said that she had ordered new plates on Dec. 23, the day her temporary tags expired.

"When I got the warning, I emailed them right away. I said we just ordered the license plates. We did it over the phone," she said. "I begged them not to boot us because the plates were in the mail. We can't control the mail."

Instead of leniency, though, on Jan. 4, Park it Right put a boot on her car and emailed her a bill for $360.

"It was $195 dollars and then the remote release deposit is $165," Cousins said. "I just felt hurt. How can someone be so mean at this time?"

She is one of many car owners who have been reaching out to Contact Denver7 alleging "predatory towing" after their cars were towed from their complexes for expired registration, even though in some cases, the car was technically registered, but they were waiting for plates.

In the same Denver condo complex, Marcial Rodriguez was also in for a surprise.

He had registered his car online and was waiting for the tabs to arrive in the mail when his temporary tag expired on January 1st.

"On Jan. 2, my vehicle was towed," Rodriguez said. "Police officers can check to see if a car is registered. Tow companies can't. Not only did I have to pay $300, but I had to get an Uber over there. Honestly, that $300 is weeks of food for me and my daughter. And if I couldn't pay for that, what was I supposed to do?"

Just last month, the DMV issued a letter asking for leniency for people with expired registration because of a significant delay in either the county DMV officers or vendors:
"The Department of Revenue in conjunction with the Colorado State Patrol asks Law enforcement, tolling authorities, parking authorities or other enforcement agencies to use discretion when
enforcing expired license plates, expired temporary registration permits and expired Persons with Disability parking placards through January 31, 2021."

But Denver7 has learned that the number of complaints about towing has not decreased during the pandemic, but has stayed consistent compared to the year before.

To make matters worse, in some cases, Contact Denver7 has discovered that in some cases, towing companies are overcharging or finding legal loopholes to charge more than state limits.

An invoice from Boulder Valley Towing, a company in the Wyatt's Towing Family, lists a towing fee of $200, while the state's maximum rate is currently $180.

Wyatt's increased its rates in December based on changes to PUC rules that allow annual adjustments to rates based on the National Consumer Price Index.

However, the new rules and rates do not take effect until next month. A PUC spokesman stated that Wyatt's had "jumped the gun."

Wyatt's towing representatives would not speak on the record, but said that they will issue $20 refunds to everyone they have mistakenly overcharged since December 10. The customers would have to reach out to the company to receive the refund.

Meanwhile, to release her boot, Cousins was charged a deposit of $165 and a $195 fee.

"When you get this unexpected bill for $360 it kind of hits you in the gut," said Cousins, who was shocked to learn the state maximum to release a boot is $160. "That would have been a lot easier to handle."

The owner of Park It Right emailed Contact Denver7, claiming that the law "was designed for commercial parking lots and not residential communities."

But Terry Bote, a spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission, said that is not true. In an email, stating: "The law does not differentiate where booting occurs."

However, Bote said that Park It Right's boot does fall in a legal loophole because its device does not immobilize the wheel, it is not covered by the state booting statute.

Now, Bote tells Contact Denver7 they are consulting with legal counsel and make seek a change to the statute.

"It seemed like they're holding our car hostage," Cousins said. "Our new plates came in the mail the same day we were booted. How can this be legal?"

Gov. Jared Polis' office issued a statement about the issue: "This is the first complaint on predatory practices on towing that has been brought to our attention during the pandemic and we are looking into it.”

If you feel you have been overcharged for a tow or experienced predatory towing, contact the Public Utilities Commission to file a complaint.

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