The Kings of the Apartment-Lot Tow

How a towing company uses parking stickers, a law firm and a sham "safety group" to tow your car from your own lot.

The Kings of the Apartment-Lot Tow
Greg Houston

The Madera Lakeside apartments in north Arlington have the cookie-cutter look of much of suburban North Texas, a series of low-rise buildings in various shades of beige with a name ("Lakeside!") that doesn't quite match reality (an oversized puddle). The road it sits on, Brown Boulevard, is curvy, narrow and fast. The sidewalks are empty. It takes a few drive-bys and U-turns to realize that there is no street parking in sight. The gated parking lot is packed with cars.

Brent Fleming moved to Madera Lakeside in May 2012. Not long after he did, he noticed something strange: On nights when he came home late, he'd see men inside the complex's gated lot, shining flashlights at parked cars. Then they'd call in the tow trucks. He remembers being struck by the careful way a tow truck loaded up an SUV before speeding away. "They pull out of there as if they were literally stealing a car," he says.

Not to worry, though: He had his parking sticker and had positioned it in the back window, just like the woman in the leasing office told him to. But then, three weeks after moving in, he walked to the lot to discover his car missing. He assumed it'd been stolen so he called the police. But the police somehow knew better: It's been towed, they said. Fleming, 21, made a few calls and learned that the car was in the possession of a Fort Worth towing company called Black Bull. It was a name that, like many apartment dwellers, Fleming would get to know well.

Brent Fleming confronted his leasing office after his car was towed. The manager mentioned that she was friends with the tow company.
Mark Graham
Brent Fleming confronted his leasing office after his car was towed. The manager mentioned that she was friends with the tow company.
Warren Norred, an attorney in Arlington, represented Brent Fleming at a tow hearing and lost.
Mark Graham
Warren Norred, an attorney in Arlington, represented Brent Fleming at a tow hearing and lost.

Details

He missed work at Office Depot that day and got written up by his boss. A friend drove him the 15 miles to Black Bull lot in Fort Worth, where a voice behind the bulletproof glass asked him for $380. That bought him access to Black Bull's tow lot, where he walked past hundreds of cars before he came across his black Scion tC.

Fleming retrieved his car and drove back to his apartment, where a property manager explained why he got towed: The sticker should have been on the front window, not the back. Irate, Fleming asked why he should foot the bill for getting bad advice from the leasing office. What happened next was a strange, but welcome, development.

"Well, I can't really do anything, but I guess I can try and call Black Bull," the woman said, according to Fleming. "I'm good friends with them, so maybe he'll refund the money for you."

Miraculously, she did: A week later, Fleming got his $380 check in the mail. The office's "friendship" with the towing company struck him as odd, perhaps a red flag. But he didn't think much of it, not until the next time his car disappeared.


Dallas and its suburbs offer a never-ending selection of faux-luxury apartment buildings, complete with swimming pools, polished websites, fancy names and gated parking. Depending on the complex, those parking lots can be a major source of stress for both resident and property manager. And it can be a major source of revenue for towing companies, depending on the relationship they have with property managers.

"Towing has always been a problem, [with] managers just wanting to tow you out of vindictiveness," says Robert Doggett, an attorney at Rio Grande Legal Aid who often represents tenants.

Most apartment buildings have an arrangement with tow companies, to keep their lots free of illegally parked cars. For tow companies, it's big business. "We help free some more parking spaces, that's the whole point of it," says Cory Trip, who works for Black Bull Towing. "You don't want to go home and not have somewhere to park."

State law bars apartment complexes from profiting from the tows, which should discourage property managers from letting companies like Black Bull take cars away for petty reasons. "They can't receive any benefits whatsoever from the towing company, period," says Pat Johnson, a former tow truck driver in Travis County who runs a watchdog organization, Texas Towing Compliance, and a blog called Texas Parking Facility Fraud. (His website endorses exactly two towing companies.)

"Some property managers ... are weak when it comes to turning away a towing company salesman offering their services ..." Johnson writes on his blog, "all at a price they could not get from anyone else, free."

If a car is towed illegally, often the only resource is small-claims court. But while the initial hearing costs just $26, winning is a long shot and lawyers' fees can be hefty. Successful plaintiffs used to be guaranteed attorneys' fees, but that guarantee was nullified by state lawmakers in 2011. The legislation was co-sponsored by State Senator John Carona, who happens to own Texas' largest group of homeowners associations.

State law still bans towing companies from giving apartment complexes those all-important parking stickers, the very stickers that towing companies use to know which cars to tow. It's a sensible law. And it's one Black Bull appears to have found a way to flaunt.

Just off Interstate 30 in Mesquite is a massive fence that looks to guard a military fortress. A sign out in front lets you know what's actually hiding back there: Black Bull Towing. It's one of the company's several towing yards.

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175 comments
observernewsletter
observernewsletter

When Ron Kirk was Mayor of Dallas, he stated if we did not resolve the towing issue someone was going to get killed over it. 

robo042
robo042

Hooray for living in the Village.  I've had my car and my friend's cars towed zero times.  

ginger4v
ginger4v

The drivers of these companies are felons! Believe me, I can't stend these pukes!

SoapboxSally
SoapboxSally

The company in this article could just as easily be LONGHORN TOWING.   The previous management of my complex got the stickers from them, we had to get "visitor passes" (when the office was open - 10a-2p with an hour closed for lunch?!?!).   Many a vehicle has been snatched in less than 10 seconds around my place as well.  Low down dirty buttwipes!   The new owner/management doesn't have a contract (yet) with them but they use our lot as a staging area all the same.  When I'm up that late, I go out and take pics of them with whichever vehicle(s) they have sitting here.

ginger4v
ginger4v

Longhorn is one of the worse ones.

mcdallas
mcdallas

Wow.  166+ comments.  People are passionate about ridiculously overpriced towing by overzealous towing companies who are affiliated with unscrupulous apartment management.

elmwoodhobo
elmwoodhobo

The exact same thing happened to me at the ICON at ROSS apartments in Dallas but the company was United Tows. I complained to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which 8 months later still has the case open and under investigation.

This scam needs to stop right now.

yourtexasattorney
yourtexasattorney

I have forwarded this story to the Mayor, every city council member, the District Attorneys for Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, Denton County, as well as the Texas Attorney General. 

yourtexasattorney
yourtexasattorney

I am an attorney born and raised in the DFW area. I just read this story in the Observer and I am not surprised but I am shocked at the level of involvement of a licensed attorney. As an attorney I have a duty to make sure the State Bar of Texas is aware of this situation and investigates to find out why there is the appearance of an attorney seeking out to represent clients, this could be solicitation which is an ethical violation. Also it is disturbing that there is a "Middle Eastern" foreign influence here. I am disturbed that the money of north Texans is being taken from them and possibly sent back to the middle east and who know what it is funding there. Also look at ALL THE FAKE POSITIVE COMMENTS BY BLACK BULL EMPLOYEES SHAME ON YOU!!


killercat
killercat

@yourtexasattorney  

Nobody but an attorney would be surprised that this sort of shady practice is the brainchild of an attorney and run for his own profit.

Attorneys are their own worst enemies.   They do not police their own.

yourtexasattorney
yourtexasattorney

@killercat @yourtexasattorney 

You can go F#ck yourself for making a general bullsh#t statement. The state bar of Texas fines attorneys for the slightest thing, we have to be right 100% of the time, work 80+ hours a week most of us to barely break 100k a yearif we are lucky, with law schools cranking out 4X more attorneys than there are jobs for,  with one of the highest divorce rates of any profession. We are in a state where Doctors are allowed to practice medicine when they have  lost their liscenses in other states with a medical review board that has no real funding and a civil justice system that has little recourse against medical errors that kill people and you want to bag on attorneys?

mcdallas
mcdallas

@yourtexasattorney Are you an attorney, by any chance?  I got the hint that maybe you were by reading your post.

My apologies if I'm wrong.

don10235120121
don10235120121

I moved away from Dallas 14 years ago after living in the Lake Highlands area for 9 years for this very reason. My apartment building signed one of these contracts with Elite Towing of South Dallas after I had been living there for 7 years. Apparently I was not the only one who was unhappy with the new policy , because I talked to many other residents during my last 2 years who were planning to move. and I have since learned that the apartments in question have been torn down and the property management ...belly up. I am now living far away from the Metroplex and needless to say I have not had this problem since.

I just want to say to the people of North Texas that during my time in there I made a contribution to the cultural, social and economic life of the entire area , not just Dallas/Fort Worth, which was WAY ABOVE AVERAGE. And now my contributions have been lost to you because you tolerate the type of thing described in this article.

Smooth move ................................

juanmayeaux
juanmayeaux

@don10235120121 You have got that right. I leased an apartment in Carrollton that had a so called "agreement" with Elite Towing. Like you said it was a nightmare of after dark tows that got quite a few of my friends vehicles. It is just a racket and I moved to a better complex in far North Dallas, that also had bizarre towing rules and another nightmare. Needless to say I am back in my native state of Louisiana after enduring living in the Dallas area for 20 years. We do not have any of these weird, illegal towing practices in our parish. Glad to be gone from "Tow City".

seddisaid
seddisaid

I live in North Arlington and I have been victim for this tow company. I have pics and documentation from my illegal tow that cost me $292. I will be contacting that attorney tomorrow!

ladypegasus059
ladypegasus059

I live in a mobile home community in Fort Worth where I actually own my house outright, but not the land. We had the same issue with a managers-pet towing company.  New management came in and instituted a sticker and towing policy. At first they towed any car with the sticker not perfectly placed,  (from your own driveway-not a parking lot) then they required you to get a pass every time you had a guest--but the office was usually not even open to get that pass.  Now, after long time tenants threatened a group action, they quietly stopped using the passes. Now they tow any car that is touching the grass (even by a few inches) beside a driveway--or that is even one day out of inspection or registration--or that even looks like it is being worked on in any way.   This is much better--but it is still bad. And it is not like we have any lack of parking because our park is more than half empty.  Before they stopped the stickers, a member of my family had to bring a company vehicle home instead of his own. He got home after the office closed with no way to get a "guest pass." At first we thought that the fact that the vehicle was legal and in our own driveway would protect it. We thought wrong. Woke up to discover the company car was gone.  We called corporate and pointed out that we couldn't get a pass from an office that wasn't open.  After a long fight we did manage to get the car back, but were told it was only because we had lived in that park for so many years.  Same tow company towed my neighbors brand new car from her driveway (so new she hadn't been able to stick the sticker--it was sitting in the window but not stuck). They destroyed her front bumper in the process.  I paid to get her car back and she never managed to get the money back or any repayment for damages even though she had photographs and witnesses that she had the sticker in the window--just not stuck to it. This  game is apparently played all across the metroplex in every venue that has a management that can benefit from predatory towing.

FWgal
FWgal

Rent a house, rent a garage, rent a barn...live anywhere but a gated apartment community. They provide a false sense of security anyway. 

edallas123
edallas123

@FWgal 

Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to rent a house. Some have to live in large apartment complexes, and have to deal with loud neighbors and all the neighbors' guests coming and going throughout the night. Not having a place to park is bad enough. But the noise, fights, break ins, drug dealing, prostitution, and trash all over the place make living at apartments scary. No one should have to live in those conditions, especially with their kids, just because they can't afford a house with their own yard and their own garage. Apartment complexes with strict parking enforcement are much much quieter and safer to live at, and that's just a fact. It's unfortunate that "guests" get towed or residents that don't show they're residents get towed, but its worth it so that residents who follow the rules can sleep in peace,  and can go out at night to throw away the trash without being scared. This article completely misses the point (basing the story on two or three crapy examples), and goes after those who enforce the rules rather than those who break them. And it seems to be overly biased against one towing company. Typical. 

dsmithy3211
dsmithy3211

@edallas123 Black Bull... making our apartment complexes safer, one prostitute at a time! We should all be so lucky!

fakeusername
fakeusername

Allegedly, the Huhem brothers really "love" each other.  That's the word on the street, allegedly.

anon1
anon1

Gaiz, hey gaiz?!  DAE love towing?  I like Black Bull because the owner gives great head!

mrarmyant
mrarmyant

If I ever found myself living in one of these hell holes I'd take action against the fraudulent company.  Removing stickers off of employee cars and buying junkers and filling it full of concrete would be great ways of making life hell for these people, as would a little jb weld on door locks of the trucks..

 
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