Help me damn the man.
February 6, 2008 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I have a hearing with the Chicago Streets & Sanitation department to contest a vehicle tow. What should I expect and how can I prepare myself?

Here's the nitty gritty. I parked my vehicle in front of my apartment building on a street that allows winter parking. (There are no signs about the winter parking ban here.) My vehicle has current tags, paid up insurance, and runs well. I'd been driving my fiance's car because he gets better gas mileage. A while ago, I noticed an orange cone near my parked car, but as I had no tickets, I didn't think anything of it. Come to find out, those bastards up and towed my legally parked car because they thought it was "abandoned." Admittedly, I had left it in the same spot for more than seven days, but I had no way of knowing this was illegal.

I paid for my car at the pound, and it's now parked back on my street (and I have plans to move it frequently.) I also have scheduled a hearing to contest the tow. Has anyone else done this before sucessfully? What should I expect?

Here are my main arguments in my favor:
1. My vehicle was legally parked in a non-towaway zone.
2. It has current tags and plates, etc.
3. It is a working vehicle.
4. It was parked in front of my legal residence.
5. I received no warning that the city was planning to tow (ie: no tickets, stickers, etc.)
6. If I am to assume that an orange cone marks my car for towing, why is that cone still sitting in front of my building? How can that be a valid warning?

Here are the main arguments against me:
1. My vehicle didn't move for a period of greater than seven days, which is in violation of the law.
2. I bear a responsibility to know the laws, even though I have lived in the city for less than three months.

I know YANnecessarilyAL, but if you have sucessfully argued your case, let me know. Also, if you can think of other good things to say that might help me out, pass those on as well.
posted by santojulieta to Law & Government (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Those aren't really "arguments in your favor", unless the law says they must give a notice, or that it must be a non-working vehicle, etc.

As far as (6), don't think of the orange cone as a warning, since it's not. It's more like a marker that they can use to tell which cars haven't been moved.
posted by smackfu at 11:28 AM on February 6, 2008


Find your alderman"s office and go talk to someone there. They may help you.
posted by lee at 11:42 AM on February 6, 2008


but I had no way of knowing this was illegal.

Isi it illegal? If so, you're dead in the water. Ignorance is no excuse. Sometimes ignorance can get you a fine reduced, but I don't know if that works for a tow. If you say "I had no way of knowing this was illegal" in the hearing, you will have convicted yourself.

1. My vehicle was legally parked in a non-towaway zone.

If the law says you get towed after 7 days then this is not true.

#2, 3, 4 are irrelevant to the question of whether it was legally parked.

#5, 6 are likewise irrelevant. Unless you go through the law and find a requirement for a warning, but I'd be surprised if that was the case.

Nothing you've said here is going to help you. If you use these arguments, you won't get anywhere. Look up the law you are supposed to have broken -- you should have a piece of paperwork by now that cites the exact paragraph number. The only question is did you do what that law prohibits.
posted by winston at 11:44 AM on February 6, 2008


It's supposed to be helpful in these cases to bring photographs. Go take pictures of the spot from several angles, noting the cone and any pertinent signage.

Also, I should say that I don't know a damned thing about Chicago parking regulations, and it's hard to google this sort of thing, but poking around seems to indicate that there's a significant rule against parking for more than seven days if you don't have a resident permit. Could that be the case? If you're in the city of Chicago, you're required to have a permit if you're visiting for more than 7 days. It may be that they towed you for not having that permit.

Unfortunately, see here:

A parking ticket is not necessary to tow a vehicle, but in most cases if a vehicle is parked in violation of posted parking restrictions a ticket will be issued.

But, looking over that page, it seems unlikely that there'd be confusion about the permit thing. I'll bet it really was an abandoned vehicle thing. That page doesn't say much, but you can call the Bureau of Traffic Services at (312) 746-4954.

Wait, I found some stuff. Hold on a sec.
posted by koeselitz at 11:56 AM on February 6, 2008


When I went up on this, they bought all the arguments (no signs posted, no other cars got towed, car was, how can I put this, legally parked). They just wanted it to go away and get to the next guy. Thing is, they excused the ticket, but would *not* refund the towing fee, because my car was in fact towed, and the law says if your car is towed, you have to pay the towing fee. Doesn't matter it was towed illegally. Car gets towed, you pay. (This has created huge abuses in Chicago, to the extent that there is a song about it.)
posted by nax at 12:07 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah ha. Illinois Vehicle Code, 625 ILCS 5/1-101.5:

Sec. 1‑101.05. Abandoned vehicle. For the purposes of Chapter 4, "abandoned vehicle" means any vehicle in a state of disrepair rendering the vehicle incapable of being driven in its condition or any vehicle that has not been moved or used for 7 consecutive days or more and is apparently deserted.

...and 625 ILCS 5/4‑201:

(b) The abandonment of a vehicle or any part thereof on private or public property, other than a highway, in view of the general public, anywhere in this State is unlawful except on property of the owner or bailee of such abandoned vehicle. A vehicle or any part thereof so abandoned on private property shall be authorized for removal, by a law enforcement agency having jurisdiction, after a waiting period of 7 days or more...

Sorry. Sounds like you're out of luck, friend. I can't find anything about them being required to notify you in this case. If you wanted to be contentious, you could point out that a vehicle is required to have not moved for 7 consecutive days and "apparently deserted," and try to argue that the car was apparently not deserted, maybe enlisting the help of a lawyer. I don't know how successful that would be, as I'm no lawyer myself.
posted by koeselitz at 12:09 PM on February 6, 2008


nax: Thing is, they excused the ticket, but would *not* refund the towing fee, because my car was in fact towed, and the law says if your car is towed, you have to pay the towing fee. Doesn't matter it was towed illegally. Car gets towed, you pay.

It sounded like that to me, too, but apparently this is not true. 625 ILCS 5/4‑203:

When an authorized person improperly causes a motor vehicle to be removed, such person shall be liable to the owner or lessee of the vehicle for the cost or removal, transportation and storage, any damages resulting from the removal, transportation and storage, attorney's fee and court costs... Any person who fails to comply with the conditions and restrictions of this subsection shall be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor and shall be fined not less than $100 nor more than $500.

This may be different in the city of Chicago. I don't know. Again, I'm no lawyer.
posted by koeselitz at 12:15 PM on February 6, 2008


Just so we're clear: you certainly have a case if they're required to notify you, but the Illinois Vehicle Code doesn't require them to notify you. I don't know if you're in the city of Chicago, but if you are, you should call the Bureau of Traffic Services at (312) 746-4954 and ask them, point-blank, if there is any notification required before towing an abandoned vehicle. It doesn't hurt to check.
posted by koeselitz at 12:18 PM on February 6, 2008


Since city ordinances are often different from state codes.
posted by koeselitz at 12:26 PM on February 6, 2008


And a little bonus from my googling: here's a really good overview of Chicago parking practices. (PDF)
posted by koeselitz at 12:57 PM on February 6, 2008


"Come to find out, those bastards up and towed my legally parked car because they thought it was 'abandoned.' Admittedly, I had left it in the same spot for more than seven days, but I had no way of knowing this was illegal. "

FYI: this isn't just a Chicago thing. I've never been anywhere that didn't have some limit on the number of days you could park on the street. In fact Chicago is fairly liberal in this regard, most places it's only 48 hours.

You want to watch your tires for chalk marks, it's how they make sure the car hasn't moved rather then just getting parked in the same spot every time.
posted by Mitheral at 1:12 PM on February 6, 2008


Here it's 24 hours, though they only really enforce it on either obviously abandoned cars or after snow storms. Besides checking for marks, it's a good idea to brush all the snow off your car after every snowfall, otherwise it will look abandoned.
posted by drezdn at 1:55 PM on February 6, 2008


Also, let me echo someone's old advice on this site. Chicago hates your car, and will do anything in it's power to make you pay for owning it. Welcome to our "fair" city. =)
posted by agregoli at 2:11 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, let me echo someone's old advice on this site. Chicago hates your car, and will do anything in it's power to make you pay for owning it. Welcome to our "fair" city. =)
posted by agregoli at 2:11 PM on February 6 [+] [!]


PRECISELY. I can't tell you the number of times I had various iterations of something like this happen to me. Obeying all the parking signs, feeding meters, whatever was considered "lawful" for the area, getting ticketed/towed anyway, contesting, either by mail or in person, with photographs, and having my argument blown off, and getting told that my fines stood. I could go through the particulars, but they don't pertain specifically to your circumstances.

Bottom line: Go ahead and contest, it's always worth a shot. You never know if you'll queue up with a judge in a good mood. Take pictures, document everything, bring chunks of the legal code quoted above, and have as much information on your side as possible. Just because thousands of Chicagoans get screwed doesn't necessarily mean you will. :)

(Actually, the best suggestion I can give is to get an oddly spelled vanity plate. This has happened to my mother on a couple of occasions--my father bought her vanity plates with her first name on them. Her name is foreign and unfamiliar to your average Chicago flatfoot. On a few occasions when she's gotten ticketed for expired meters, "illegal" parking, sitting for 30s too long in the "arrivals" zone at O'Hare, et al, they've transcribed her license information incorrectly. She just sends a formletter in with the ticket and a photocopy of her registration, showing that the license number doesn't match her vehicle. Thrown out every time.)
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 11:00 PM on February 6, 2008


or any vehicle that has not been moved or used for 7 consecutive days or more and is apparently deserted.

I would focus my argument on the definition of "apparently deserted", although given the limited imagination of most bureaucrats, it may not get you anywhere.
posted by electroboy at 11:03 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


electroboy, I think you win the thread. It doesn't say "a vehicle not moved for 7 days shall be considered abandoned". It says "unmoved for 7 days AND is apparently abandoned." Meaning that you have to fulfill both criteria in order to qualify for a tow.

I think you can make a pretty effective case that your car, properly registered and tagged, parked near where you live, not smashed up and damaged, etc. is NOT apparently abandoned. I live in Illinois, and do see the State Police along the highways putting big orange stickers on cars sitting on the side of the road. I'm not sure if that's a warning, or just a sign to the two truck operator. But they wouldn't do it if there wasn't a good reason for it. It might be in your best interest to find a lawyer who does this kind of work and get some advice- there may be some sort of administrative rule that's not in the ILCS that requires notice.

But good luck. Administrative judges aren't exactly known for their finely honed legal minds. Their job is to extract money from you. And my experience with them in Chicago is that they are unfriendly pricks, but that's just me.
posted by gjc at 7:21 AM on February 7, 2008


gjc writes "It doesn't say 'a vehicle not moved for 7 days shall be considered abandoned'. It says 'unmoved for 7 days AND is apparently abandoned.' Meaning that you have to fulfill both criteria in order to qualify for a tow."

I think you'll find that they consider "not moved for seven days" de facto proof of abandonment unless you are out there washing the thing when they come to tow it.
posted by Mitheral at 8:05 AM on February 7, 2008


gjc: ...there may be some sort of administrative rule that's not in the ILCS that requires notice.

As I said above, such a rule would be in the City of Chicago regs. I actually just looked over the Municipal Code of Chicago (don't ask me why) and found this:

9-92-030 Authority to impound or otherwise relocate vehicle.
Members of the police department and employees of the department of streets and sanitation are authorized to issue a notice of parking violation and may authorize the removal of a vehicle from any public way to a city vehicle pound or authorized garage or other legal parking space in the public way under the following circumstances:

... (d) When a vehicle has been abandoned or found to be a hazardous dilapidated motor vehicle in violation of Section 9-80-110...


Section 9-80-110, of course, is verbatim the same as the Illinois Vehicle Code above re: the definition of an 'abandoned vehicle.' Long story short: I'm almost certain they don't have to notify before towing a vehicle as abandoned in the city of Chicago.
posted by koeselitz at 10:38 AM on February 7, 2008


I don't think you'll actually win, because you really have no leverage in this situation. If they say "7 days of no movement = abandoned, pay up" you really have little recourse. These things usually get resolved when they tow a councilman or a lawyer with lots of free time.

Where I live, it's 48 hours before they can tow. Our last mayor, who is now unfortunately our governor was asked what happened if you were on vacation said we should get a friend or neighbor to move our cars every two days. Thanks a lot, dick.
posted by electroboy at 12:06 PM on February 7, 2008


I'm almost certain they don't have to notify before towing a vehicle as abandoned in the city of Chicago.

I live in Pilsen and up and down some of the side streets (particularly around 19th and Racine) there are numerous semi-abandoned vehicles. Some of these are borderline rusted out hulks, four flat tires, etc. One particularly bad one was this late 80s Toyota Supra which had obviously been hit at one point and left to sit for a long time. I saw it for months until finally a few weeks ago I spied a parking-ticket-like notice on the driver's side window which basically said that the car had been reported as abandoned and would be towed unless it was moved. A few days later I noticed that it had been moved (pushed I assume) to the other side of the street. I suppose it'll sit there until someone reports it again.

Granted, this is Pilsen, where people don't really seem to give a shit about beaters littering the streets, or the fact that a significant amount of street parking is taken up by abandoned cars.

The point is that there was a notice on the car, dated and signed. Does that mean that they have to provide notice? Probably not. But I know they do give notice on bicycles which have been abandoned at bike racks before cutting them loose and auctioning them off... so maybe there is something there. You won't know until you call someone.

Keep in mind that a car which sits for days or weeks accumulates a lot of snow and this in turn makes the parking spaces near it troublesome to get into and out of. So, it's very likely that your neighbors got pissed off (remember, they have probably seen your car sitting for weeks and weeks now at various places along the street) and reported it.

I'm not sure where you live, but there are parts of Lincoln Park where people get pissed over a dirty car, let alone one which has been hanging out for weeks.
posted by wfrgms at 10:42 PM on February 7, 2008


wfrgms: The point is that there was a notice on the car, dated and signed. Does that mean that they have to provide notice? Probably not.

Yeah, I've gotten those notices myself. I once had a car break down on a backroad and had to get a ride home and come back the next day. There was a yellow sticker on the windshield with a warning that it'd been marked 'abandoned.' (It took me a long time with a can of WD-40 to get that damned sticker off.)

But from what I hear about the City of Chicago (bless their dear souls) there's a whole economy built around this. A friend of mine at work here who's from Illinois tells me that anything over five grams (!) of pot can get you nailed as a dealer. Why? Because if you get nailed as a dealer, they can confiscate your car and auction it, money going to the state; so cops are always pulling people over and searching them for that golden over 5 grams of pot. From what I can tell, the towing of abandoned cars is a similar deal; they'll tow everything they can legally, and, statistically, a good percentage of those won't end up getting claimed, and will bring revenue to the state at auction.

I think this is a pretty shitty way to run a city. But then, I guess I'd have to tell Mayor Daley about that.
posted by koeselitz at 11:07 AM on February 8, 2008


Daley said to tell you, "Up yours." =)
posted by agregoli at 12:20 PM on February 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I would not even try to contest it. It will be a hassle, you may have to wait for hours and hours, and I don't think that you are at all likely to be successful. It is not uncommon for cars to get towed because they have sat in one place for a long time in Chicago. Maybe it's not that common in Pilsen, but it is where parking spaces are at a premium.

I have found that towing like this is a lot more common with cars without local plates and city stickers. If there is an out-of-state license plate or a car with an Illinois plate but no city sticker (which they have looked up the registration information for and determined it is not registered in Chicago, and that's why you didn't get a ticket for no city sticker), they're going to put a ticket on it and tow it a lot sooner than if you officially live on the street (as in, that's where the car is registered to) where your car is sitting. Also, if you are planning to contest the ticket and tow, don't even bother if you are going to say "I live right there, but I have not yet changed my registration, driver's license or insurance information. I just moved here from out of town three months ago." That is just asking them to ticket your for not updating your registration or something like that.

Also, you probably don't want to hear this, but if lots of people never drove their cars and left them parked on the street all the time without moving them, then those people who use their cars would not be able to find places to park when they needed them. It is a difficult, expensive and eye-opening (those tow yards are CRAZY!) lesson to learn when you move from somewhere where things are different (and it is even more bogus to think about how corrupt every party involved in towing cars is), but having a million or so cars in a city like Chicago just doesn't work if you can leave your car on the street forever. That's even more true when we have a winter like this one where a lot of snow has come down, although at least this time the thaw cycles have made it melt soon enough that there has not been much snow-related towing.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 2:47 PM on February 8, 2008


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