Hang tag blues: How mom and dad got towed


Mother's Day for William Harris and his family was anything but serene. On the other hand, since they celebrated it in Charlottesville, perhaps they should have expected to be towed: Getting towed, it seems, is as much a tradition in Charlottesville these days as walking down the Lawn.


Harris and his wife drove down from Maryland to spend the day with their daughter, who lives at Woodrow Apartments on Stadium Road. They picked her up about 10:30 Sunday morning, went to brunch, and returned around 3pm.


They had to run some errands, for which their daughter wanted to use her own car. That meant they'd need a guest pass for her parents' car– but the rental office, which is open on Sundays from 10am to 3pm, was already closed. A hang tag could have been moved to the other car, but since tenants receive only stickers, they left the car and hoped for the best. Since Harris claims there were 12 to 15 empty spaces, he assumed there wouldn't be a problem.


Wrong. Big problem.


During the 45 minutes or so Harris estimates they were gone, Collier's Towing patrolled the lot and towed the car. When the family returned, Harris called Collier's and said, "I want my car back."


In reply, he claims, the Collier's employee said, "You're going to have to have a better attitude." This was not an auspicious beginning.


The Harrises went to Collier's impound lot on West Main Street, where, according to Harris, the employee was "very rude"– so much so, in fact, that Harris says he had to call the police before the man would give him a receipt.


As frequent readers know, towing receipts can be valuable documents, depending on what kinds of charges are listed and where you were illegally parked. If you were parked on private property– such as the lot at Woodrow Apartments– Virginia law limits what the towing company can charge: no more than $85 for the tow, with an extra $10 if it's after hours or on a weekend, and $10 a day for storage if the car isn't claimed within 24 hours. No other charges, such as for special equipment or release fees, are allowed.


Harris was charged $45 for the tow and $15 for the release fee, which is where the situation gets interesting. I asked whether he had been told that retrieving the car would entail paying a release fee, and he said no. That's a crucial point, because nothing in the law says that a towing company has to release a car after hours or on the weekend.


When I spoke with Collier's owner Glenda Jones for a recent column ["$500 Lesson," April 28], she said that henceforth she would release cars when the office was closed only if the consumer agreed, ahead of time, to pay a release fee.


When I called Jones to ask about the policy, however, she wasn't inclined to discuss that or anything else with me. "I don't have anything to say. Thank you," she declared– then hung up. Harris intends to pursue the subject in Charlottesville General District Court.


Alice Fletcher, who is a regional property manager for Management Services Corporation (which manages the apartments), explained the parking policy at Woodrow and said that it's been a headache for management and tenants alike. This year tenants wanted one parking sticker per tenant (instead of one per bedroom, as in previous years). Also, since there aren't as many spaces as there are tenants, residents specifically asked for stickers instead of hang tags, so that only tenants– not friends, significant others, or even parents dropping in for Mother's Day– could claim one of the precious spaces.


Fletcher has offered to reimburse Harris his $60, and agrees that residents should be reminded about the parking policy well before move-out time– which, of course, is now.


Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second St. NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.