One tenant at Lake Shore Park apartments in Latham said the nightly arrival of tow trucks is like the reaper coming to collect.
Almost every morning at the complex, unsuspecting tenants wake to find their cars missing. They had been taken in the middle of the night with no warning.
They are kept in downtown Albany at Joe’s Osborne Street Garage, more than nine miles away in what some tenants have deemed the mud pit.
The reasons given for the towings are varied: They were on the grass, or a `hair` over the white line separating spaces, or parked in a fire lane, which is what an employee at Joe’s Osborne Street Garage told Patty Roman as he attempted to haul off her vehicle recently.
Roman is a tenant at Lake Shore Apartments and the latest of about a dozen Lake Shore residents who say they are victims of what one county legislator is calling `predatory towing.`
`I had lost my shoes trying to get him to stop,` said Roman, outside the apartment complex.
Roman joined other tenants Wednesday, Nov. 29, as Albany County Legislator Timothy Nichols, D-Latham, announced he would be introducing a local law to stop predatory towing.
`I was hanging on the running board of the truck on the driver’s side. I was screaming for him to stop,` said Roman. She said the driver eventually stopped at the Troy-Schenectady Road entrance to the apartment complex, where Colonie police responded. It was 1:30 a.m.
Roman said she begged police to arrest the tow-truck driver for stealing her car, which she contends was parked legally and not in the fire lane as the driver said. He stated he had photos. Roman said she has yet to see them.
The driver told Roman that the short tow, and her ride on the side of the truck, would cost her $180 if the vehicle were to be left at the complex entrance. She ended up forking over $50 and filed a complaint with police.
Nichols said Roman’s story is typical.
As Nichols told members of the press about his proposed legislation to put a stop to the towing, several tenants made their way out of their apartments to listen. One man had two copies of towing receipts from Joe’s that totaled more than $400. A younger man next to him was leaving the complex and said he didn’t want to tell his towing-horror stories for fear he may lose his security deposit. Another tenant said her children’s cars had been towed. None of them had seen the photos of their violations.
If there is a problem, Lake Shore officials said they haven’t heard anything to alert them to one.
`If they are getting towed every day, then they are not coming to me,` said Joseph Gordon, a leasing agent at Lake Shore. `There are (parking) rules in the lease. The pictures are taken by the towing company, and they reflect just why the vehicles are towed.`
Tenants of Lake Shore sign a two-page motor vehicle parking regulation agreement as part of their leases. The document lists several instances in which vehicles can be towed.
The problem arises when tow truck drivers ` not apartment staff ` are left as the sole enforcers of the regulations, said Nichols, adding that under the tow agreement with the complex, the towing company has essentially become the judge, jury and executioner.
`They are operating under the cover of night and acting like thieves and in a shameful way, and doing it every single night. Why anyone would treat their own tenants that way, I don’t know, unless there was a profit motive,` said Nichols.
That profit motive, Nichols said, would be a prearranged `kickback` between the owners of parking lots and towing companies.
Lake Shore Park officials denied such activity was taking place.
`There is a gentlemen (Nichols) making a lot of allegations that I take kickbacks, and that is a lie that does not happen,` said Joseph Garland, general manger of Lake Shore Park, Valley View and Village One apartments. All three complexes have towing contracts with Joe’s Osborne Street Garage. And all three are experiencing the same towing problems, said Nichols.
`Parking has always been a problem so we have an aggressive tow policy, and it’s in the lease,` Garland said.
The tow regulations were formed to meet increased violations, he said. Many tenants had been complaining about lack of spaces and cars taking up two spots or parking in fire lanes. For the most part, many tenants at his complexes are happy with the regulations, he said, adding that it is the ones who violate them who are having problems.
The agreement with Joe’s is that all towing is conducted under those regulations, Garland said.
The agreement also outlines the need for photos of the infractions. If there are no photos, said Garland, then there are no fines, and that has happened three times in the past three years. The allegations of cars being towed for `touching` divider lines doesn’t happen, he said.
Workers at Joe’s Osborne Street Garage, which is off of Catherine Street in Albany, declined to comment. One of the tow trucks was parked in front. Attempts to reach garage owner Joseph Gimondo were unsuccessful.
Garland said he chose to contract with Gimondo over nearby towing facilities because the garage’s vehicle storage capacity is better able to handle the numbers of vehicles being towed from the three apartment complexes.
The legislation Nichols is introducing seeks to restrict towing companies from towing vehicles from private parking lots. The law also seeks to ban any kickbacks of fee-splitting schemes, limit the distance between parking lots and designated points of vehicle pickup, as well as additional notification of parking lot rules.
If approved, violation of the law would be an unclassified misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of not less than $5,000 and no more then $10,000 and/or up to one year in jail. “