For a moment, it seemed that one small suburb in north Texas was prepared to take on the tow truck industry. It was less of a crackdown and more of an "education campaign," according to Euless Police Department Lieutenant E.J. Starnes. The police were concerned that apartment complexes had made it too easy for tow truck companies to come in and take residents' cars away.
A police spokesman sent an email to apartment managers, asking them to come to a meeting to learn about local towing laws. "Please forward this to all of the other managers and do your best to get full attendance," the email said. The police would even provide free lunch.
News of the meeting did not go over well with the towing industry, which promptly threatened to sue the city.
James Mosser, a Dallas-based attorney who represents tow truck companies, sent the city a letter on November 8.
"You have ignored my telephone calls and have not returned my telephone calls," Mosser wrote to Euless City Attorney Wayne Olson before getting to the meat of the matter:
Any attempted enforcement of the Euless city ordinance Sec. 90-93. and Sec. 90-96, will be met with legal action, because it is a violation of federal law. Each of the following ordinances are in violation of 49 U.S.C. 14501. You should know this. Your staff should know this. You should inform the City of this fact. You should return your telephone calls....Your staff has no idea what I am talking about. So again please call me. As I have told your staff and the City of Euless if you do not discontinue your unlawful enforcement of the above reference ordinances I will seek injunctive relief, sanctions, and monetary damages.
Reached by telephone, Mosser accuses Euless of violating federal laws regulating interstate commerce. "One of the issues is that when property managers get threatened by the city, they put towing on hold," Mosser says. He says he threatened the lawsuit after a client of his, Excalibur Towing, called him and said that a wrecker driver had been getting hassled by Euless Police Department officers, though Lieutenant Starnes says he has no record of that.
The police department, Mosser adds, is trying "to intimidate the apartment complexes so they won't hire the towing companies."
All of this of course suggests that there's a pretty cozy relationship between apartment complexes and tow truck companies, an issue we've written about a lot. Mosser more or less denies that his client gives kickbacks to landlords, but adds: "If I did know, I wouldn't tell you."
The whole Euless towing fight was triggered by -- what else -- an angry apartment resident. James Barr had been living at the Westdale Hills apartment community for less than three weeks when he got a warning sticker from Metro Parking Solutions. There was nothing wrong with the way he was parked. The tow truck company actually just had an issue with the mechanics of Barr's car. More specifically, his inspection sticker was out of date. Barr forgot about the notice until he woke up early on October 25 and found that his car was missing.
He paid $473 at a lot 10 miles away to get the car back, and then he got some legal advice from Pat Johnson, the former tow truck company owner who now blogs about predatory towing. Johnson described Barr's case on his website, and both men got in contact with Lieutenant Starnes.
It turned out, Metro had violated a few local rules: Tow trucks in Euless aren't supposed to take a car to a lot that's more than three miles away. Also, someone from the actual Westdale apartment complex was supposed to sign the tow slip before Metro took action.
"These towing laws change. And they are very confusing and they are extensive. There's just a lot to learn," says Kathy Riggins, an administrative assistant at Westdale Asset Management.
After hearing the complaints, it occurred to Starnes that other apartment complexes might not be following the rules, which have been in place since 2012. So he scheduled that informational tow law meeting. "We need to inform our apartment complexes, 'Hey, this is what the ordinance says, make sure that y'all are in compliance with our ordinance.'"
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On Thursday, city officials were still figuring out what to do about Mosser's legal threat, and the meeting was canceled. The Euless Police Department still plans to enforce the ordinance until they are ordered otherwise from the City Attorney's office, Starnes says.
Meanwhile, Metro Parking Solutions was supposed to send a $473 refund to Barr, but that check appears to have vanished.
"The money was left at the office where he lived," says Scott Gorby, the General Manager at Metro Parking Solutions. The Westdale leasing office says they can't comment on that. Barr says he's still out $473.
"I haven't gotten anything back," Barr tells Unfair Park in an email. "The battle is just beginning."