To seasoned Dallas apartment renters, towing horror stories are a fact of life. But for a 23-year-old woman who recently moved here from Atlanta, towing was something she says she never thought about -- not until her car had been towed from her own apartment parking lot the day she had a doctor's appointment scheduled to check on her high-risk pregnancy.
Allison Ezell lives at the Serendipity Apartments, a sprawling complex near NorthPark Center. A new management company recently took over the complex, and with that came new service from a Dallas tow company called Excalibur. "They weren't enforcing the towing prior to us going under contract there," says Excalibur Towing president Nick Massey.
The management provided new parking stickers for apartment residents, and Ezell promptly put one in her car, she says. But on the morning of December 4, Ezell, then 12 weeks pregnant, left her apartment to attend an OBGYN appointment at Presbyterian and discovered her car had been towed. She called her boyfriend, but he was at work and didn't answer. So instead of making the five-minute drive to the hospital, she trudged to DART instead, she says. On the way there, she says, she began feeling sick. She got off the bus, passed out in a CVS and then took an ambulance to Baylor, where a doctor told her she was losing the pregnancy. (Medical records she showed us confirm that she was treated for a miscarriage December 4).
Her boyfriend later took her to the vehicle storage facility where Excalibur left her car, a place called DFW Tows on Wisconsin street. But the cashier refused her credit card, she says, and asked for $229 in cash if she wanted her car back. Reached by the Observer, a woman who answered the phone at the tow yard confirmed that it doesn't take credit cards.
"I spent all the cash I had when I was getting out of the emergency room," Ezell says. And the idea of paying cash seemed "sketchy" anyway. Without the money, Ezell wrote a note to her apartment manager telling her about the miscarriage and warning that she would challenge the tow in court. "Since I do not have the means to get my car out, I will be forced to do the tow hearing," she said in an email to her apartment manager. "I just wanted to make you aware and let you know because I need my car for work not because I am upset or bitter."
Ezell rented a car to get to work in the meantime, and left it in the parking lot without a visitor pass, assuming her car would be fine since the building knew of her ordeal. But later that evening, she says, she found her rental car had been towed, too. She filed a complaint with the Dallas Police Department.
Finally, five days later, the apartment manager replied to Ezell, telling her via email she'd try to help her out. "I'm sincerely apologetic for your loss," wrote Dominque McSween, the Community Manager for the Serendipity Apartments. "I'm currently working to get your vehicle back."
McSween hasn't returned our messages, but Excalibur President Massey confirms that a Serendipity owner asked him to help a resident who had suffered a miscarriage. By the time we reached Massey, he already agreed to let Ezell have her car back for free. He said he didn't have a record explaining the reason for the tow. It was either towed for not having a current resident sticker, he says, or "or she got towed for being [parked] backed in," which according to Excalibur is a towable offense. (It's not the only company to target backed-in vehicles. When a resident at another cheap apartment in Dallas complained last year about aggressive towing by Longhorn, a Longhorn representative also blamed his backing in. Longhorn is the tow company best known on Unfair Park for their recent potential $88,900 fine and their foul-mouthed representative named Patrick.)
Ezell insists she did keep the correct sticker on her car, though she says that it could have fallen off -- when her car was returned to her, the sticker wasn't there anymore. "The only explanation I have is that it either fell off and I didn't notice it or someone took it off," she says. Either way, the resident handbook from her leasing office says that people with out-of-date inspection stickers will get a 72-hour warning before their cars are towed, a warning she says she never received. Stories like these are unnervingly common across Dallas, where apartment complex's cozy relationships with suspect towing companies often leave residents standing in their empty parking spots, pissed and bewildered.
Massey, for his part, sounded apologetic about the terrible timing of Ezell's tow and her inability to pay with a credit card at the storage facility, though he denied that Excalibur has any jurisdiction over the storage lot where it dropped off her car. "That's not good," he said. "She should make a complaint with the city of Dallas or the state of Texas over that facility."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Ezell is waiting for her next paycheck to get back the rental car still in the tow lot and is hopeful that her Enterprise insurance will cover it. But the experience has left her bitter about her new home. She moved to Dallas in September, and said the apartments she used to live at in Atlanta never had aggressive towing.
"The parking lot is not a public place, it's not a Walmart parking lot," she says. "People live here. It's like a driveway, and a tow truck driver wouldn't walk up to somebody's driveway and tow their car."
Maybe if Dallas wants to attract more of the young people city planners are always lusting after, a good first step would be to stop letting tow companies aggressively troll the apartments where they live.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein..