How can I fight this tow?
July 16, 2012 12:29 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend's car was towed from the street on a potentially bogus claim here in Chicago. How can we fight this?

The night before going away for this weekend with me, my girlfriend parked in front of this house. When we came back the car was gone and after some calling around we found out it was towed. The reason given was that that the car was parked in a parking lot or by an apartment complex, no further reason.

Here's the house on google maps.

Now I've done a bit of searching but I'm not clear how being parked on what seems to be a public street is a violation. In the photo you can see a no parking sign, but that seems to cover the driveway which is rather large and not the street in front of the cobblestones.

How can I figure out if this truly is private property or if this is a bs tow? Obviously we're going to pay this now to avoid racking up storage fees and then try and get the money back afterwards, but what tricks or tips does the hivemind have for fighting this?
posted by Carillon to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The maps link is to Ohio? Can you clarify if the car was parked in Ohio and you are trying to fight it in Chicago or... ?
posted by desjardins at 12:32 PM on July 16, 2012

There's also no sign in the picture you linked.
posted by desjardins at 12:35 PM on July 16, 2012

Are you sure it's a public street? I know of a street in Boston that is privately owned and has one of the highest tow rates in the city.
posted by mskyle at 12:36 PM on July 16, 2012

Response by poster: Hmm I'm not sure why googlemaps is acting up, but to clarify the address is in Chicago:

5730 N Magnolia Ave
Chicago, IL 60660

Also on the photo I linked there is that blue sign between the garage and the house.

How can I find out if the street actually is private?
posted by Carillon at 12:39 PM on July 16, 2012

So if you go on street view to the Magnolia Ave in Chicago (not the one that was linked), and go north up the street to the blue house right next door, there is a sign posted. I can't quite make it out but there seems to be a red circle on it - can you remember what that sign says?
posted by Think_Long at 12:43 PM on July 16, 2012

Are you sure it was towed from the address at which you parked it? Might it have been stolen and left somewhere that it would actually have been parked illegally?
posted by elizardbits at 12:44 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I went on street view on the Chicago North Magnolia Ave, and I see No Parking signs - they have a P with a red circle with a line through them. I can't read the writing, it's too blurry, but if the address isn't too far from your home, I'd go check it out again before you fight the tow.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:45 PM on July 16, 2012

Really and truly, this fight would be akin to entering Kafka's castle (I wish I was exaggerating). Lincoln Towing gets everyone at some point or another, and the healthiest option is to think of it as a car tax and set aside money for it.
posted by susanvance at 12:48 PM on July 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

From what I can tell on Street View, that's a typical Chicago public street.

The blue sign, which is illegible in the picture, probably pertains to only the driveway. It's pretty common for private drives in Chicago to have signs warning that the owners will have any unexpected vehicles in their driveway towed.

If your girlfriend's car was blocking the driveway whatsoever - even just by an inch or two - the homeowner probably had good enough grounds to have the car removed. I've seen this happen plenty of times in my Chicago neighborhood.

Alternatively, there's a possibility that the car was towed illegally. You should review this section of the Illinois Administrative Code and if necessary, fill out a "relocation towing complaint" form, and submit it to the Illinois Commerce Commission.
posted by BrandonW at 12:51 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that an inch of the car was overhanging the yellow curbs marking the tow-zone no parking area?

It's not a private street, so that's not an issue.
posted by hwyengr at 12:51 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Magnolia is definitely a public street but there are a lot of streets that are permit parking only around there (I live only a few blocks away).
posted by enn at 12:51 PM on July 16, 2012

Response by poster: So the no parking sign that is there says no parking there to the corner, which doesn't cover the spot in question, it's essentially where that red car is closest to the driveway.

I can check about the overhang, not 100% sure as I didn't park it and it was at night.

Enn we just moved in to the neighborhood and are clearly still getting settled in. It could be a permit sign but I don't recall there being one.

In terms of contesting this, do they have to have proof of infringement or is it a "their word against mine" type of scenario?
posted by Carillon at 1:11 PM on July 16, 2012

Who towed you, the city or Lincoln Towing? City or private? Not sure how a private group could tow you off a public street, but I once was sitting in my car (circa 1985) in a private lot waiting for my girlfriend who was in the store whose lot it was when the Lincoln guy started to lift me. A lot of yelling and threats later, he dropped my car, cursed at me and drove away. I guess if you blocked the driveway, they could have towed it. Or the city for being in a no parking zone, but generally my experience in Chicago was that there was a difference between a no parking zone and a towaway zone.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:14 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

That street is public but I see no parking signs too. The reason on the ticket seems a bit odd to me though. I think we need more info.
posted by sm1tten at 1:18 PM on July 16, 2012

Bogus towing is a grand old Chicago tradition. You're entitled to a post-tow hearing if you claim the tow is bogus (last bullet point). Here's a news article about recent changes to the law. (Here's a lawyer's page that came up early in the google results talking a little bit about the hearing process.)

Here's the Illinois Commerce Commission's page on "relocation towing," which includes a pamphlet with the law and your rights, and the complaint form that you can file with the state if you suffered a bogus tow.

Here's the Chicago PD on relocation towing and complaints. Section VI, Procedure, outlines how complaints work.

This does happen appallingly often in Chicago, and it's a racket, plain and simple. I don't know what your odds of winning are, but I think people should always fight it. Good luck.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:35 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am sorry that this was part of your welcome to the neighborhood experience - it is unpleasant and costly. In my experience, sometimes you can beat a ticket but that you always have to pay the tow company (at least to get the car out). If it really bothers you to get these parking violations think about renting a private parking spot because there are very likely to be more tickets in your future.

You do not have pictures of the car before the tow (so no evidence of your innocence and they don't take pictures before a tow) and there is a drive way so the towing company can claim that the car was (even an inch or two) in the drive. You really need to see what they wrote down on the paperwork/ticket to see what to fight (or be careful about in the future). I hope you were not also issued a ticket as you would have to pay that separate fee.

There are other violation possibilities: street sweeping or a neighborhood party or someone got signs from the alderman for their move. These signs can go up the day before and are taken down when the event is over.

But first, have you picked up your car? Did you call (311) and find out which lot it is in, gone there, paid, received your paperwork, and the car is back in your possession? The actual owner of the car (the name on the registration) needs to go with a government issued id and the money. Go - we can help you better when you have your car and more information.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 1:37 PM on July 16, 2012

I have zero Chicago-specific experience, but I wanted to chime in to say that this is going to be awfully hard to fight. I've had my car towed in a situation where it was absolutely legally parked and the towing company just simply doesn't give a shit. It's a racket where they get paid regardless and your only recourse is to complain to whoever gave them the right to tow. In my case, it was in an apartment lot out of a spot I paid for and eventually got the apartment building to cover the costs. But you're absolutely going to have to pay the towing company either way, and maybe you'll manage to get reimbursed later from the city. Don't delay on picking up your car out of some sense that you can fight the case with the towing company. They get paid for every day your car is in the lot, so first order of business should be to get the car back and then worry about marshaling whatever evidence you can to get the city for a hearing.

It's a heinous situation and absolutely infuriating but I'm with the earlier commenter who suggested it's just a car tax. You have to decide how much your time is worth if you descend into the bowels of the government to get it all reimbursed. It's not going to be pretty.
posted by heresiarch at 2:36 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

According to this City webpage, 5730 N Magnolia is NOT in a permit-parking zone.

FWIW, being towed by Lincoln Park Towing is probably the Chicago equivalent of full-immersion baptism - back in the 70s, Steve Goodman wrote a sort of "hymn" re the experience.

Welcome to Chicago.
posted by she's not there at 3:04 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had my car towed in Chicago for a totally bogus reason. I found out long after the fact that the tow intake form was full of lies. (The most amusing of which was that my tires were "completely deflated." I believe that would be the first instance in recorded history of an impound lot re-inflating someone's tires.)

Anyway, it is very, very unlikely that you'll have any success at all contesting this, but if you're going to try, do it now. If more than 7 days have gone by from the date of tow (and they count the first day as a full day, even if it was 11:59 pm), you are SOL.

However, if you do contest it, and your path crosses a guy named Frank, tell him I said he can suck my balls.

Good luck.
posted by phunniemee at 3:38 PM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

The OP does not refer to Lincoln Towing. If it was the street, it is a city tow and in a city pound (although under certain circumstances the towing may be by a contractor) and the OP is entitled to administratively contest the citation and tow, but I have no contemporary knowledge of how this works post-privatization of the meters and such. The big thing to remember is that this will be an administrative hearing, not a criminal one, and the standard of proof is simply preponderance of the evidence, with the burden of proof on the shoulders of the towee. If you have good pictures of the location and the sign showing it is legal to park there or how you were on X side of the no parking sign, you have a shot.

The takeaway? It's your responsibility to park defensively. Sure, there are loads of people who use spots in front of hydrants and park too close to driveways without seeming to get ticketed, but it's also possible that they're just not paying the tickets and skipping out on them somehow (before computers this used to be a well-practiced dodge of suburbanites).
posted by dhartung at 5:30 PM on July 16, 2012

Response by poster: So update on the situation. Apparently the owner called and stated the car was IN the lot with the pictured cars rather than on the street. That's also what the driver attested according to the lot attendant. Now seeing as the car was definitely parked on the street and not the "lot" what can be done? This looks like private towing not city.
posted by Carillon at 6:05 PM on July 16, 2012

You do not have pictures of the car before the tow (so no evidence of your innocence and they don't take pictures before a tow) and there is a drive way so the towing company can claim that the car was (even an inch or two) in the drive.

Apparently the owner called and stated the car was IN the lot with the pictured cars rather than on the street. That's also what the driver attested according to the lot attendant. Now seeing as the car was definitely parked on the street and not the "lot" what can be done?

Have you picked the car up? Ask the tow operator if Chicago does in fact have a requirement that tow operators must photograph the vehicle before towing, in order to document the fact of a parking violation. This is now the law in Gainesville FL, which has some of the most predatory roam-towing operators in the solar system. See this link and then select "Towing Bill of Rights" for details on photo requirement.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:05 AM on July 17, 2012

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